The ‘had more fun playing with the cardboard box’ is a fairly common Christmas gag, but the harsher reality is that Christmas often means that; having crafted the most perfect day or most perfect moment for our kids; it can be crushing when they don’t engage in all things festive in the way we were hoping for.
There’s a lesson about little brains when they have ‘more fun playing with the box’; children’s innate desire to play, imagine and create doesn’t go away just because it’s Christmas, or because of the story behind the present that was inside.
Whether we are grown-up or child, the most basic functions in our brains doesn’t give a monkey’s about what day it is.
And yet just the response to the gifts can so easily threaten to get this much-longed-for day off to a really bad start.
So here are three perspectives that can help Christmas be, if not perfect, not so testing that you can’t wait for it to just all be over;
Be Realistic About Gratitude and Appreciation
When our kids tear through one present after another, barely acknowledging the love, effort (or money!) involved, and then give you a version of ‘unsatisfied’; it can feel very personal.
And nothing brings the discontent about raising an ‘ungrateful child’ to the surface like an ungrateful child at Christmas.
For the sake of not spending your day frustrated or hurt, hold in mind that it takes a fair bit of knowledge, a refined perspective and a maturity unusual in most children to reflect on how many kids in the world ‘get nothing at Christmas’, or have no home, or no parents to love them etc.
While cultivating gratitude, and empathy for those less fortunate, is important, children are much more in-the-moment creatures than us; especially when they have had so little involvement in all the planning.
Rather than setting unrealistic expectations for them to join you in your reality, try and join them in theirs. There are, after all, another 364 days to connect with the generosity and sit in appreciation before you do this again.
Can Children Have ‘Too Much Fun’? YES!
It’s not just emotions like stress, anger, or sadness that can be overwhelming, but joy and excitement too, especially for younger children who haven’t yet mastered the skills of self-regulation.
This often shows up as our kids appearing obnoxious, which of course they sometime are….
But snappiness, impatience and hostility are usually a sign that their brain’s ‘fight or flight’ response is over-aroused, in which case they have very little – if any, at all – awareness about how they’re coming across to others.
Thus it doesn’t take much at all; especially an accusation of ‘being rude’ or told to ‘stop being X,Y,Z’; to flip their lid. Nobody wins.
A ‘bad attitude’ is rarely their intention, and it tends to be kinder all round to respond to them as a child needing help with a problem, more than being a problem.
Christmas can still be a day when our children have the most fun, but moderating it isn’t stingy.
Little brains can only take so much excitation (especially because they’re not dampening it down with something boozy), so allow for some down time, quiet time, a bit of ‘just like every other day’ time.
It will help balance their brain chemistry and keep the Fight-Flight response in check.
But if Fight-Flight does happen, it doesn’t have to hijack the day. Make time and space for adrenaline to drain away (ideally an hour), otherwise your child’s brain will just be waiting for the most trivial reason to blow again.
Lead With intent, Not Expectation
Another curse of Christmas is the pressure we put upon ourselves, and everyone else; to have the most joyful day, for nobody to argue, to cook the most delicious meal anyone has EVER eaten etc.
But everything I just told you about about your child’s brain applies to yours too. Go back 👆 and read it again, through the lens of being a grown-up, not just your child.
Because even if your children are having an amazing day, if you’re stressed, they’ll still pick up on your vibes. You’re prickly, they get prickly, and eventually it becomes an invite for all of our hope and dreams and careful planning to be sabotaged by misbehaving brains!
What do you want you and your kids to remember? Intentionally stay in that space.
There’s a whole other blog post to share about the magic of ‘intent’, but just know this; intent is where your power is.
Intend to have a good day. Intend to be realistic. Intend to deal with any problems, if, as and when they arise, and to be present; then you can just move on if that happens.
And intend to just go with the moment occasionally; even if that means going off plan. Because that’s what the box says…
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