Christmas always has the potential to be a difficult time of year for families and children, especially for those who have experienced adversity. There are lots of pressures on parents and carers to create a ‘perfect Christmas’ for children. However, because of COVID-19 and the wide ranging implications that it has had, many families will have experienced bereavements and financial hardship this year. Furthermore, many families will not be able to see loved ones during the festive break, and opportunities for parents to see friends and seek support will also be limited. Additionally, we have heard about the increase in domestic violence and mental health problems during the last year, which will have had an impact on many families.
ACP member and Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist Ryan Lowe explains that despite all the difficulties during the year, celebrations are important, and children need us to show them how to manage difficult times without despairing. It is also possible that by rallying ourselves for our children, we can also show ourselves that there is still something to celebrate in the world.
How can parents and carers overcome stress and anxiety during the Christmas period?
Ryan Lowe explained; It's important to acknowledge sadness and loss as well as demonstrating to our families that there is also good to be celebrated. In doing this we do not wipe out the difficulties we have, but we also don’t let the difficulties wipe out all the good. It is important for parents to feel what they give children in terms of emotional support and time matters, rather than just material gifts or exciting outings.
Include the children in the planning
Ryan Lowe explains that it is useful to start planning things that you can do during the festive time with your children. Even very young children have great ideas, and if children are involved in the planning they are more likely to be engaged with the process.
Help children understand the significant financial hardships this year
Parents may need to prepare children in advance that presents and outings may be different this year. It is important to allow children to feel sad that things won’t be the same, but then it's possible to start planning what can be done.
Put value back into non-material things
Playing board games or making a family board game together, making up extra questions that are particular to your family.
Connect with family and friends even when you cannot be together
You could send other families and friends the same board or card games that you are buying or making for your own children, then you can play the games over video link if you’re not able to see them face to face this year.
As Christmas is likely to be spent mostly at home this year, you can go to town on the decorations and make the house feel festive. There are lots of resources for creative craft ideas available freely online. As parents are likely to have more time with their children during this holiday period, it is an opportunity to try out different crafts at home and enjoy some special time with your children.
Be honest with the children
If there has been a big loss or bereavement this year then it would be better to include it in the thinking and planning rather than try to pretend it didn’t happen. Include a place for prayers for loved ones, or a time to think about the losses that took place, and include some time for reflection on the differences in family life now that things are different.
Think about the year ahead
It’s important to remember that next year does look to be improving. The vaccines may make it possible to slowly think about seeing family and friends again, and you can plan who you are going to see and what you will do with them. You can play family dinner games that include questions like; ‘what is the thing you miss most about life before the pandemic and what is the first thing you will do when all the lockdown restrictions are over?’
If you want to find more resources related the COVID-19 pandemic, please see: https://childpsychotherapy.org.uk/resources-families/covid-19-information-families
If you are worried about a child or young person, please contact your GP. If you would like to speak to a child psychotherapist directly, we have a list of members who work privately on our website.