As Christmas approaches, I would like to offer some things for your consideration that might help your children and you get through the holidays more easily this year. Christmas is stressful for everyone, but especially for children with troubling pasts. It is best to focus on your relationship with your children first and the Christmas frenzy second. If you become stressed, giving into the busyness and frenzied schedules of the holidays your child will experience the stress and you’ll start seeing regression into younger, less emotionally mature behaviors. I recommend that you find time each day for quiet activities that give everybody a break.
Gift shopping is hard for children who lack constancy. When they are shopping for someone else, they lose the part of them that knows that they too will receive gifts. We recommend that you keep shopping for others short and simple, all the while reminding the child that they will get gifts too. After shopping you may take the child out for cocoa and tell them how proud you are of the way that they handled buying gifts for others.
The child’s emotional age
Please think about your child’s emotional age before buying gifts. If you have a ten-year-old that’s emotionally at the 2-year-old level, this child will break a toy soon after he or she gets it. That is perfectly normal for a toddler. If this should occur, collect yourself and then go to the child and offer to help fix the toy, “I am so sorry you chose to break this toy, let’s see if we can fix it.” This helps the child to understand that you can be disappointed and still love and support the child. To avoid setting you and your child up for getting toys broken, we suggest you buy some toys appropriate for your child’s developmental level; building blocks, Lego’s, simple musical instruments, games, etc. Part of the therapeutic process is to help your child recapture the missed stages of development through play so that she/he can grow into using more age appropriate play. As you prepare your child for the gifts that will be received, it will be helpful to assist your child in having realistic expectations so that they are not disappointed. Additionally, it may be helpful for your child to open their gifts little by little in the days leading up to and following Christmas so that Christmas day is not so overwhelming and so that the letdown after Christmas is not so great (i.e.: 12 days of Christmas).
While gifts are a part of the Christmas celebration, we recommend placing less emphasis on gifts and more emphasis on family activities that create memories, following are some suggestions: decorate the tree together, bake cookies together, wrap gifts together while listening to Christmas music, share a cup of hot cocoa in front of the tree or fireplace, go for a car ride and look at the lights while listening to and singing along with Christmas music, or go to a Christmas musical or concert. Read a Christmas story by candlelight each night leading up to Christmas. Creating rituals and warm memories is important.
Schedule some quiet, nurturing time with your children daily to help strengthen your emotional bonds. Give your child a hand massage with holiday-scented lotion, doing mirroring activities such as hand clapping games or dancing. Spend time snuggling in front of the Christmas tree, the fireplace, a Christmas movie, or while reading a favorite Christmas book.
If your therapist has told you that your child is emotionally immature, please trust that and seriously consider these ideas. It may sound silly to give a 10-year child, building blocks and yet, you may be surprised when the child actually enjoys playing with them. We have plenty of activities to share with you if you want more ideas.
Last, we encourage you to refrain from using any part of Christmas to punish your child. Christmas gifts are a token of the relationship between parent and child; please do not take them away for misbehavior. There are many other things that can serve as natural consequences if your child is in need of redirection during the holiday season.
We hope that you have a wonderful Holiday Season.
Deborah and the team at Family Christian Counseling,