Six ideas to help you enjoy December with looked after children

Gone are the days when Christmas was celebrated over a day or two.

If you have children in your life, I expect you’re already experiencing their excitement as Christmas draws near. The presents, parties, food, plays – all of it can bring a lot of fun for our children to anticipate.

But the festive season can also be a time of increased anxiety, fear or bad memories for looked after and adopted children, as this article explains.

Every child responds differently, so the ideas that follow may not all be relevant or helpful for your family, or you may find the principles useful, but need to execute things in a different way. But however you choose to use them, I hope that these suggestions are helpful and encouraging at this significant but challenging time.

Resist the temptation to fill December

Gone are the days when Christmas was celebrated over a day or two. Our family can’t move for festive events right the way through December, from Nativity performances to class parties to Christmas jumper day, it’s a whole month of busyness and change to the normal routines.

With so many new festive ideas for how to spend our time (and money) in the weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s tempting to fill our weekends with trips to see Santa, crib services, festive markets and outdoor ice-skating. I’m a self-confessed Christmas addict, and would happily fill my days with these kinds of activities if I could.

But, while these things can be fun, memory-making occasions for children, they can also be the cause of unnecessary stress. Children are probably already quite exhausted by a long school term, and all the extra Christmassy activities that school provides.

Children who have experienced early-life trauma may be in particular need of a little space during this busy month. The changes in school routine might increase their anxiety levels, as their ability to predict events lessens – or the stress of learning lines for a school play, and fear of getting them wrong, could manifest itself in challenging behaviour at home.

Keeping December weekends free allows space for down-time, lie-ins, and getting over the inevitable winter bugs – and of course, if everyone is doing well, you can always plan a Christmas activity at short notice.

Plan some low-key, engaging activities

While you don’t want to over-crowd your free time, it may be a good idea to keep a few ideas at hand.

Having a few items prepared which you can quickly whip out when children are starting to get bored and restless will make life easier at a busy time. Go by your child’s age and interests, but this could be a new tub of playdough, a colour-in Christmas tablecloth, a specially-curated box of Lego or other small toys (taken from what they already own), a magazine, craft kit or new book.

We have an ‘Advent basket’ which comes out on December 1st each year. It contains all the Christmas story books we’ve been given over the years (for a variety of ages), as well as some Nativity jigsaws and a Nativity sensory bag. Each year it gives us fresh ideas for reading and play throughout December.

Having some low-key activities like these can give children space to process any difficult emotions or memories which may be rising to the surface around Christmas, while doing something constructive and positive.

Visualise the schedule

Believe me when I say my December is busy enough without an extra job on my list – and I expect yours is too – but I also know that if I take an hour or two to prepare a visual timetable for my son, it will pay dividends for the whole family.

Our boy is not alone in his struggles with fear and anxiety. His response to changes in care-giver in the past has been inordinate amounts of worry whenever his normal routine is broken. He finds it difficult to trust us when we plan new activities, and doesn’t like not being able to predict how he is going to feel about something new.

So a visual timetable, when referred to regularly, can help him to understand and predict what’s coming next, and how he might feel about it. We cover the two-week Christmas break, but also add in those special events happening before school ends. I tend to include photos of family and friends we’ll be visiting, plus pictures to depict certain events (e.g. a Christingle, Christmas lights, etc.).

It’s also a good exercise in spotting how crowded our holidays are becoming, so that I can pull back on a few commitments if necessary – and ensure that any free days remain that way.

Take the shortcuts

Our busiest time of year is also the time of year when our children may need us most.

They don’t need us to be stressed-out in the kitchen, or madly dashing round the shops, they need us to be present and time-rich. They need us to allay their fears about what might be happening over Christmas. They need us to distract them from sad memories of previous Christmases, or to take out the life story books and chat through the emotions they’re experiencing.

So consider where you can take shortcuts (e.g. shopping online, buying pre-prepared Christmas food, posting a Facebook Christmas message instead of cards) and give yourself that space to suddenly drop everything, if needs be, to spend time offering extra time and reassurance to your child.

Look after yourself

You can’t be there for your children if you’re not there for yourself. So plan in some fun Christmassy activities for yourself too – whether that’s attending your work Christmas do, arranging a festive market outing with a friend, getting creative in the kitchen, or simply just relaxing in the evenings with a film.

Christmas can be stressful for vulnerable children – but this stress is absorbed by parents and carers, so it’s important that you plan in some times when you can enjoy your own friendships and interests.

Focus on Jesus

In 21st-century Western culture, we really do have to make a concerted effort to make Christmas about Jesus. But we do our children a huge disservice if we allow ourselves to get too distracted from the main event: the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Especially if our children are feeling fearful, anxious or controlling around this period, our lives and homes need to teach that Jesus is the true source of peace. This is one of the ways we can help them feel safer, more loved and more comfortable in our homes.

However you spend Christmas this year, however unconventional it may look to the outside world, we pray that the joy of Christ’s birth would become real to every member of your precious family.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Luke 2:20

Read more from Lucy on her blog.

Author:
Written for Home for Good by Lucy Rycroft (LucyRycroft.com)


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