Christmas calm: Ways to help kids avoid excitement overload
'Tis the season for overwhelmed children.
Bemoaning how early the Christmas adverts begin has become something of a national hobby. But while many people secretly enjoy being a bit humbuggy about the lengthy build up, for those with children it can cause real problems.
Prolonged anticipation of all the fun that’s to come can cause emotions to reach fever pitch before Santa has even harnessed his reindeer.
Children – especially those too young to be able to comprehend that Christmas is still weeks away – may feel overwhelmed and tearful, which could cause them to act up and throw tantrums, rather than enjoying what should be a joyous time.
Keeping your emotions in proportion is a skill that can take years to develop, but there are things we can do to help children keep their cool as the festive spirit grows, as I discovered when I asked other parents to share their experiences.
Read on to discover the little ways families have found to help children stay calm in the run up to exciting events.
An advent calendar can be surprisingly helpful
Having a little something to look forward to every day can actually help children keep track of time and enjoy little bursts of excitement, rather than allowing the anticipation to build uncontrollably. Kirsty Ketley, mum-of-two and founder of Auntie K’s childcare says: “That's where an advent calendar can be useful, it helps them countdown – being visually able to see how long to go.” (Although she draws the line at Elf on the Shelf).
Stick to your routine and don’t plan too much
December can be an exceptionally busy month, with school productions, present shopping and card writing – and that’s before you factor in all the parties, visits to Santa and Christmas markets.
Lots of unexpected events and new experiences can be overwhelming for children, so Shanice Tomlinson, mum-of-one and co-founder of Orbit, says one thing she has found “really helpful to keep my daughter calm in the lead up to Christmas is ensuring to keep to our usual routine as much as possible”.
“Don't plan too much,” Kirsty concurs and Lisa Lewis, Sshhhh Sleep Consultant adds: “They don’t need to do it all. We've all seen kids overwhelmed with too many presents and not care what they are. It’s all too much!”
Jane Tarrant, mum-of-one and founder of LiNK BREATHING, says she uses “breathing awareness” and “conscious nose breathing” to help calm down her two-year-old.
“Like many children, she easily switches to mouth breathing when overexcited,” Jane explains. “By the time she was two, when I asked her to breathe through her nose if overexcited or emotional, she would focus and start to lift her hand slowly up on the inhale and float it down on the exhale.
“At night when she is overexcited and unable to calm down for sleep, I lie next to her and ask her to breathe through her nose and listen to my quiet gentle slow nose breathing as I slow my breath right down, sometimes pressing my diaphragm against her so she can feel the pace. I find bedtime relaxing for me, no matter what the lead up has been because introducing breathing awareness is beneficial for both of us.”
Jagdish Sehra also practices deep breathing exercises with her children when they get very excited. Another technique she has found works well with older children is journaling. Giving children a chance to put their feelings into words can allow them to gain a feeling of control and prevent them becoming overwhelmed.
Get Santa involved
If your child gets carried away and sometimes needs a gentle reminder to calm down, Flic Everett, editor and mum-of-one, found that when children won’t listen to their parents, getting a little outside help from someone special can work wonders: “I used to get my husband’s brother to text warnings under the name ‘Santa’,” she says.
Enlist their help
Parents hiding away preparing “secrets’ and “surprises” for the big day can whip children up into a frenzy of excitement. So it can help to give them opportunities to feel involved. Shanice says her daughter is more calm when she gets “her involved in the Christmas preparations - from putting the tree up, to decorating gingerbread houses and wrapping presents”.
Words of wisdom from a classic children’s book
A little quality time away from all the hustle and bustle can work wonders for those beginning to feel overwhelmed - sage advice for us all (grown ups included), as children’s author Shirley Hughes knows:
Can You Help With A Little Thing?
An upcoming issue of The Little Things will focus on how friendships change when you become a parent. Before children we can devote as much time as we want to our friendships, but having a baby to look after of course means time is less abundant. Did you worry about becoming a bad friend when you became a parent? Did you find any little ways to ensure you nurtured your friendships at such a life changing time. Please do let me know by replying to this email, your insight could help other mums and dads who are struggling.
“Now, we have even more evidence to back the safety of the vaccines.” Read why obstetrician Professor Lucy Chappell, chief scientific adviser for the Department of Health and Social Care, is advising all pregnant women to get their COVID vaccine, in The Guardian.
What impact will the trend for neutral nursery decor have on babies? Amelia Tate investigates for Wired, and exposes the myth that babies only see in black and white.
“New research from the University of Bristol sought to understand the relationship between prenatal smoking, alcohol and caffeine exposure and maternal reported ADHD symptoms in childhood. And they found…. well, nothing!” This interesting thread from the Centre for Reproductive Research & Communication explores why publishing studies with null findings is important when learning about pregnancy.
“Studies are suggesting up to 50% of pregnant and new mothers are experiencing high levels of depression and anxiety. We would usually expect this to be somewhere around 15 – 20%.” Luciana Bellini writes about the mental health fallout of mums who gave birth during the pandemic for Glamour.
I’m Ellen Wallwork, a sleep-deprived mum-of-one, incessant worrier and freelance journalist. I’ve been writing about parenting for more years than I care to remember and previously launched the Parents section on HuffPost UK. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, (but be warned, I’m not a prolific poster).
If you enjoyed this newsletter and perhaps learnt something new, please do forward it to your friends or give it a shout out on social media. You could also buy me a virtual coffee through ko-fi, here. (Caffeinated please, did I mention I'm tired?)
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Disclaimer: This newsletter does not provide medical advice and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. The use of any information contained in this newsletter is solely at your own risk.