• drmaryhanbaker

The 5 unexpected gifts of our restricted Christmas

I am an eternal optimist; ask my children, they find it really quite irritating. I am always telling them to focus on what the difficulty or challenge is teaching them, and what can be learnt from it. This is not to say I diminish their feelings in any way; absolutely not. Children need to feel heard, and their worries acknowledged. What they then need is for us to challenge them to problem-solve, to find workable solutions.

So in this time of continued uncertainty, and as we adjust to our new normal for the festive period, what are the lessons to be learnt?

What if this time is in fact a huge opportunity for us to take a cold hard look at how we celebrate the festive period. What is working, what isn’t, and why? Then, rather than looking to see what changes we need to make now to survive the festive season for 2020, we could instead ask ourselves “How can the changes we make this year help us thrive as a family in the future; how can we have the festive family Christmas we have always wanted?”. The answers to these questions are going to be different for each family and the truth might be painful. Yet growth can only truly come when we are brave enough to tackle issues head on. Isn’t that what we are so desperately trying to teach our children?

So, I’d like to invite you to consider the five ‘gifts’ I believe we are being given from the festive restrictions, should we choose to accept them:

1. We might need to learn to say ‘no’ more... and that can only be a good thing

Christmas brings with it many traditions and also a huge amount of pressure to visit family, friends, and attend a huge swathe of festive commitments we don’t always want to go to. This year we are being gifted the opportunity to flex the muscle we rarely use, and to say ‘no’ to the events, which we go to out of obligation rather than desire. Make a list of the usual ‘obligatory’ events and activities you attend each year for Christmas and give each one a rating out of 10:

1. How much do I enjoy doing this?

2. How easy is this to do?

3. How happy does this make me feel after I’ve been?

If the score is less than an 8 for each question then it’s time to take a cold hard look at whether you should be saying, “thank you for the invite, this year we sadly can’t make it”.

2. Help us prioritise what is important and what isn’t

The period of restrictions has made many of us to take a reality check. Being forced to work and play at home has allowed us all to reconsider what really is important, and what isn’t.

Do we really need to work such long hours to get the job done when we see how much joy our children get out of us being present at bedtimes and at school and nursery drop-offs? Are days with unnecessary meetings and endless to-dos worth the price? So many families have discovered the power of connection through the everyday joys of play and experiences - let's take this discover through to Christmas. Consider, is the consumerism worth losing what children value the most, time?

3. Start new traditions for the festive period; ones which better serve our family

This year is a great opportunity to throw the old rule book out the window and start afresh. What matters to your family, what does your family value, and how can you incorporate more of this into how you celebrate your festive period?

This year we are planning on listing 21 things we would like to experience, habits we want to create, people we want to spend time with, and ways we want to change the way we live in 2021. It’s already brought out some interesting discussions about what really matters to us as adults, and to our children.

4. Teaching our children that change creates opportunities to try something new

Rather than focusing on the things you can no longer do as a family - whether that’s Santa’s grotto, or holidaying with friends, or having a huge family meal on Christmas day - why not instead focus on teaching your children the wonderful opportunities they now have to reinvent what Christmas looks like for your family?

Start with a huge blank sheet of paper – a big roll of lining paper is my favourite – and get everyone involved in dreaming big! Good questions to ask to get the creativity flowing are, “What do you enjoy most about Christmas, and why? Who do we most want to see, and why? What do you enjoy the least, and why”

5. Getting children involved in planning

Once you’ve decided on what your new festive period is going to look like, get the whole family involved. Again use a huge roll of paper and write down each day of the festive period, what you’ll be doing and what might need to be organised, made, or prepared and decide amongst you who will do what. Make this fun rather than a list of chores. Agree in advance what you’ll all do which is fun, after all the tasks are done – maybe a film all together with pop- corn? Put some Christmas music on high and enjoy getting things done together as a family.

Dr Mayhan Baker is an experienced psychologist and parenting expert. Her work focuses on helping and supporting each family to create their own bespoke toolkit of practical tools and strategies; moving their child from angst to courage, so everyone feels confident, calm, and connected.

Based in Hampshire, thanks to modern technology she works directly with families and schools stretching from Manchester to Monaco.

For more information go to: www.drmaryhan.com

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