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How to talk to children about their hopes and fears this Christmas?

“Hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight” 

’O Little Town of Bethlehem’

Many of us are excitedly preparing for the festive season. But whilst it can be a fun time of year, for many it can be one of the most challenging. Christmas can heighten feelings of depression, anxiety, stress, and other trauma-related symptoms. It can be a beacon of hope for children and young people in troubled times but it can also be where fears come to the surface.

We spoke with Rachel Melville-Thomas, ACP member, about talking to children about their hopes and fears. She says:

Children can get excited and hopeful of seeing a special relative or imagining what Father Christmas will bring this year, whilst some may be worried about long drawn out family gatherings. It is often a recovery time for young people who have just had the pressure of school and they look forward to chilling, whilst there may be fears of their parents being disappointed, or upcoming mock exams. Equally for parents, Christmas can be full of fears of dealing with a difficult family dynamic as the wider family unit comes together.

Melville-Thomas suggests:

  • Listen to your children about they hope for, but also what they are worrying about; what they fear may be coming. Get them to open up about their feelings on both sides of the spectrum. It’s important to look under the surface at a time where things seem very shiny on the outside.
  • Bring Reality into Fairyland: This seems a hard thing to do in the midst of the ‘magical’ season, but we need to help our children have lovely, but real expectations of how things will be. This year with a cost of living crisis many parents may have to scale back on expenses, food and gifts. The long Santa list of things might have to be spread out across the year – some things kept for a birthday perhaps. Explain to children that we all have wishes, but that it’s good to have a Plan B. Coping with not having all wishes granted is really hard, but can be great for growing  patience and resilience in the family.
  • Find the Treasure: Show children what you value most about the holiday season, like spending time together, sharing food, music and stories; making personal cards or gifts for relatives; remembering family members who are absent with love and celebration. Look at your family gathering as the treasure it is. Don’t compare yourselves with the artificial images on line and in ads.
  • Like the words of another carol, let’s aim for: All is calm, all is bright.

If you are worried about a child or young person’s mental health over the Christmas holiday period, speak to your GP or another professional that knows your child. CAMHS services remain open during the ordinary working days in the holiday period and some CAMHS services have out of hours support, it is worth checking in your local area.

There are also several crisis support lines for children and young people: