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How to help children with anxiety handle a busy Christmas

Updated for 2023

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year for some, whilst for others not all is festive and jolly. Christmas can be a rather anxious time for some children and can be particularly overwhelming. Taking into consideration the presents, the social events, the decorations and music alongside a disturbed routine, it becomes all the more understandable why some children struggle to enjoy themselves during the festive season.

However, there are ways you can help your child if you know they will likely struggle with the upcoming festivities.

The following guide has been designed to provide some suggestions for how you can help them and enable you, and them, to have a relaxing and enjoyable Christmas.

 

Have a clear plan 

Sometimes, just simply being aware of what the day will bring can help a child mentally prepare for upcoming events. Having a clear plan will allow your children to communicate their concerns and worries to you. Encourage this, as understanding what your child is specifically worrying about will allow you to discuss solutions together. 

 

If your child’s anxiety symptoms specifically stem from social events, then letting them know in advance about social gatherings can often be helpful in managing any symptoms. It provides the opportunity for you to put a plan in place, together. Ensure that you answer any questions that they have and be as honest as possible with your answers.

 

Questions may include:

How many people will be there?’

Will there be games to play?’

Or ‘What time will we be leaving?’.

 

You may not know all the answers and if you don’t then be honest about this. If you tell a child that there will be 10 people in attendance, and you arrive to see 100 people, this will likely be anxiety-inducing. If you are able to find out the information beforehand then great, but the key is to be as honest as possible.

 

Working through any questions that your child has, will help to generate solutions. If your child is worried about becoming overwhelmed, discuss the option of using code words. If, during the event, your child begins to feel overwhelmed, they can use the agreed code word and you know to take them aside to give them the space that they need.

Planning in this way, provides the opportunity for your child to develop the necessary tools that will give them options, should they begin to find things difficult. Working with them in deciding on the chosen techniques will give them some control over their situation, which is a leading cause of anxiety related issues. 

 

Use Advent Calendars for encouragement

The change in routine can be tricky and it’s sometimes difficult to get your child up and excited when they know there’s a challenging day ahead. Some parents use an Advent calendar as encouragement – they are great for channelling children’s excitement as they count down the days to Christmas. 

 

As well as providing opportunities for you to play together and spend some quality time during the festive season, getting your child involved in alternative Advent activities can help to develop their creative and social skills too.

For suggestions of different advent calendar ideas, take a look at our alternative advent calendar article which is a great resource for unique advent ideas

 

An alternative advent calendar will allow you to create something completely personal that will help to get your child excited and ready for the Christmas events. Why not include positive daily affirmations with their daily treat, in order to provide the perfect boost that your child may need? The beauty of a personalised advent calendar is it provides you the opportunity to create something that is unique to your child’s needs.  

 

Advent calendars are a great tool to use in preparing for the run up to Christmas as they deliver a timeframe to work within.  As the days tick upwards, you can have increasing conversations with your child about the upcoming events and they can mentally prepare for the events of the day. 

 

Familiarity and Traditions

The lack of routine around the holidays can make some children feel particularly anxious, as they are unsure of what to expect and may not adapt well to change. Their normal school routine is disrupted due to the Christmas holidays, so simple rules such as waking up early and getting dressed in their uniform don’t apply. 

 

However, there are things we can do as parents to make sure our children have a sense of familiarity around Christmas. If routine is important, then continuing this as best as possible may provide the consistency your child needs. Waking up at the same time, having the same breakfast and getting dressed at the same time, can be comforting to some children who don’t adapt well to change. 

 

However, don’t be afraid to ensure your annual traditions are upheld, such as decorating the Christmas tree, opening a present on Christmas Eve, or making gingerbread houses. These are all enjoyable activities that your child will benefit from so do not shy away from them out of fear of disrupting their routine. Keep things consistent where you can, but feel free to introduce change where necessary, particularly if it involves a fun activity you can all do as a family!  

 

And breathe…

Remember, your child learns best from watching you, so keeping yourself relaxed and calm is one of the best approaches you can take.

Events will occur that are outside of your control, but forward planning, open communication and honesty with your child, are all tools in your tool box to ensure this Christmas will be the best one yet!