By Dr Amanda Gummer, MD and Founder, Fundamentally Children
Any parent will tell you that preparing for Christmas can, for many reasons, be a stressful time. Even if we are lucky enough for the festive period to run without a snag, there are still many more demands on our time than usual.
But particularly at times like Christmas, it’s really important to remember that parents who are tired, stressed and stretched to their limits are not in the best position to raise happy contented children. Trying too hard and taking on too much can lead to us being exhausted and unable to properly care for our children, which in turn can lead to feelings of failure and guilt among other health problems. Since children learn best by copying what they see and as parents, we are our child’s first teachers, it follows logically that having parents who are happy, confident and relaxed is a far better option than frazzled ones.
This is where my Parent Centred Parenting model comes in. I believe that by choosing a parent-centred lifestyle, parents avoid putting their children’s wants above their own health and well-being, which then increases the chance that the parents themselves will be happy and healthy and better able to respond appropriately to their children’s needs, as well as providing a healthy role model for them to copy.
And if you’re wondering if the model can work for you, the great news is that it can work for any family. There are no hard and fast rules on what to do and what not to do. Instead it encourages parents to ask for help and empowers them to understand their family situation and work towards a better future together.
It also shows that choosing to be a great role model is the best thing a parent can do as their child grows, and advises that we lead by example to show children where to aim for in terms of health, fulfilment and development. And finally, the model means children can develop at their own pace in a nurturing but not pushy environment.
If this is put into place, children will learn to respect their parents as individuals while being confident they will be there for them when needed. It is not about neglecting a child’s needs, more that by meeting our own mental, emotional and physical needs too, parents will be better equipped to support children in their development and encourage them to reach potential without strict teaching or forced goals.
But how do I do this at Christmas?
While it would be silly for me to suggest you simply put yourself first during Christmas preparations, it’s really important to remember your own needs while you are getting gifts, food, decorations, entertainment and more ready for the rest of your family.
Make sure you don’t take on everything yourself. Call in help from the rest of the family to ease the load on you. For example, if you are hosting, why not ask everyone to bring a dish? Invite your guests over an hour earlier and get a spud peeling line going, so that you can all sit down and open your presents while they are in the oven.
It’s also a good idea once children are old enough, to get them involved with the preparation. This not only takes a few jobs off your list, but it helps to teach them that lovely experiences like Christmas do not just happen, and that if everyone mucks in, then all of the family can enjoy the celebrations. So, for example, if they are reading and writing, why not enlist their help with writing the family and neighbours’ Christmas cards? Or maybe older children can help you to wrap up gifts (children should always be supervised with scissors) and decorate the house, or even bake the mince pies etc. If everyone gets involved, it can often turn what would have been a stressful, difficult list of jobs, into fun family Christmas preparation.
In the lead up to the big day, it’s key for us as parents not to get swept up with the excitement of everything and feel that we have to take part in absolutely everything. While we all want our children to experience certain Christmas celebrations, they don’t need to go to every single event that is going on in a 10-mile radius. And in fact, if they do, they’ll often also end up burnt out, overtired and ratty by the time Christmas Day comes around.
So make sure you manage their expectations about celebrations. Explain that there isn’t the time to attend everything and ask them to choose their most important parties, etc. You can then make sure that they really enjoy and appreciate the chosen activity, rather than rushing from Santa’s grotto to the school fete, before heading to a neighbour’s party and starting again the next day.
This also applies to gifts – once children are old enough to compile their ‘wish list’, make sure they know your limits. Worrying about money when you’ve tried to buy and wrap everything they have shown a liking for in November and December can leave you stressed and worried and won’t do them any favours in the long term either. Set your boundaries and explain to your children that they can choose gifts that fall within those – whether that’s a particular number of presents, or a certain budget, etc.
And at the end of a busy day of preparation, make sure you’ve left some time for yourself – put your feet up with a cuppa or soak in a bubble bath and find five minutes to recharge your batteries –you’ll be a better parent for it the next morning.
Fundamentally Children is an organisation dedicated to helping children develop skills through play. We provide independent expert advice on a range of topics including play, toys, apps, children’s tech, e-safety, child development, special needs and other parenting issues. The company was founded by child psychologist and regular media spokesperson, Dr Amanda Gummer.
Fundamentallychildren.com is the home of the Good Toy and App Guides and Fundamentally Children Endorsed as well as a raft of other useful advice for parents, carers and childcare professionals.