Tis the season to be jolly, right? Yes, Christmas is a happy time. A time to celebrate, to enjoy great food, to revel in the company of family and friends, to relax. This all sounds pretty great, and certainly wonderful reasons to be jolly. But as a parent, I know that Christmas can also be the season of chaos. There are extra commitments, overtired children, budgeting challenges, family feuds, the juggling of work mixed with school holidays, never ending jobs to do, and the list goes on…
The good news is that there are ways to manage the Christmas chaos, and set yourself and your family up for a relaxing festive season. The strategy I use to manage expectations and ensure a happy holiday incorporates the three C’s: Clarity, Consistency and Communication.
Being clear to yourself and to your family about what you expect over the holiday period is extremely important. When we can paint clear pictures of what something will look like, of how we feel, and what expectations we have; we are better placed to identify potential challenges and the solutions.
For many children, particularly those with learning and communication difficulties, clear and concise information and instructions are essential when navigating a new or potentially stressful situation. Christmas and the holidays often means a change in routine, more people in the house, and new experiences. Your child may struggle to handle these changes and will need to clearly understand what is expected from them, and what they can expect from the situation. Using visual information like pictures and symbols can help your child process what is happening now, what will happen in the future, and what steps they need to take to fulfil any expectations. If your child has a clear understanding of what is happening they will feel in control, safe and secure, and can alleviate any challenging behaviours.
Similarly, you also need to be clear with yourself about what Christmas and the holidays will look like. As parents, we tend to ‘should’ all over ourselves at this time of year – we should travel to the family home for Christmas, we should invite X friend over, we should attend that party up the road. But ‘shoulds’ aren’t clear. What we need to be clear about are the ‘coulds’. What could your family do that will ensure a happy and safe holiday? Can your family, particularly your children, handle that trip, can you handle one more visitor, can you make time for that party? Asking these questions will help you to be clear about what you expect of the holidays, and this information can then be passed onto those who matter, so they too are clear about what your family can and can’t do over the holiday period.
It can be so tempting over the holidays to abandon regular activities and just have a break. While you and your family do need to find time to relax and recuperate after a busy year, it is important to ensure your overall routine remains consistent.
Routines play an important role in the lives of children with learning and communication difficulties. The everyday hustle and bustle can be quite overwhelming for some, and this only increases during the holidays. Consistency and routines can help provide stability and a sense of order for your children, especially when things are stressful or when children are navigating difficult or new experiences.
But this doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or be flexible. Routines should be designed around what works best for your family, and it is in a sense of consistent order that children with special needs can better navigate a new situation. If the basics are consistent, chances are you will have a better opportunity to introduce something new.
When creating a more consistent approach to your everyday life, consider the following three things:
- Are your days / weeks well planned?
- Does everyone in the family understand their roles and responsibilities?
- Does your routine involve consistent times and tasks that take place each day / week?
- Is your household routine predictable?
- Do you stick to your routine and continue activities that may be outside of the school day / term?
While we all need a rest at this time of year, take a moment to think about what you need a rest from, and what would be beneficial to keep within the routine including specific appointments, educational activities and social activities.
Communicating effectively with your family is the best way to alleviate uncertainty, anxiety and stress. While you may be consistent with your general routine, there are times when things will change, and this is when we need to clearly communicate with our children what is happening. Use a means of communication that your child can understand, and ensure any instructions are clear and concise. Once again, using visuals to aid communication will help your child gain a better understanding of the situation and what to expect.
Remember, effective communication is also about listening. Make sure you take the time to listen to the needs of your family, particularly your children, and keep the lines of communication open. This can help them to feel empowered and if your child knows their needs are being heard, challenging behaviours are less likely to occur.
When establish effective communication within your household, consider the following things:
- Do you know your stress triggers? Anger and anxiety are obstacles to effective communication. If you know something or someone is likely to set you off, be prepared with coping skills. The same goes for your children. Understand what situations might heighten their anxiety and work out ways to help them to feel comfortable.
- Are you honest? Being honest with yourself about what you would like to do at Christmas will help you to better communicate your needs and expectations with your family.
- Do you model effective communication? Modelling appropriate behaviours and communication are great ways for your children to learn and understand what is expected.
- Do you listen? Making sure you keep the lines of communication open is a great way to alleviate the Christmas chaos. While you may not always be able to fix the issue, talking about it and allowing all members of the family to have their say will help when finding a solution.
When managing any chaotic situation, you really can’t go past being clear, consistent and communicating effectively. These three components roll into each other, and without listening to the needs of others, and communicating our own, we can’t possibly understand how to manage a stressful situation.
Christmas should be a time for laughter, fun, family and festive cheer, so why not try my three c’s for managing the holidays, and see how you can combat the chaos this year.