I’d like to ask your advice about a problem we have with Christmas. I have two boys aged 7 and 4 and for the last couple of years, December has been a total nightmare. They both get completely overexcited and hyperactive. We have lots of fights, trouble at bedtime and they really get on each other’s nerves. Obviously, I want them to have fun at Christmas but their behaviour feels like it spoils it for them and us. I’d really like to have a calmer Christmas with less arguing.
Hi Mumbler member,
I’m sure you aren’t alone in this situation. We talk to lots of parents who feel stressed out by Christmas and everything that comes with it!
There are two different issues in your question. The first is about how to help your children get along better and the second is about managing the Christmas overwhelm which is impacting on their behaviour even more.
There are a lot of different ideas about how to help siblings get along. The truth of the matter is that no matter how much we’d like our children to be the best of friends sometimes conflict is inevitable.
Less important than the conflict itself is how we model how to manage conflict.
Siblings play a vital role in helping children to develop social skills. If anything, sibling conflict can help them to develop their blueprint of how to act out in the wider world. At 4, your younger boy is going to have a fairly limited ability to manage his emotions and will need lots of support from you to do this. Its normal to have to state your expectations many, many times over, and it will pay off in the long term no matter how exhausting it feels. However, there are a few ideas that might help reduce the conflict;
Have some ‘safe’ toys.
Make it clear to both of your boys that each of them have toys which are special and can’t be touched without the owner’s permission. It’s helpful to limit this to just two or three toys or you can find whole bedrooms to be no-go areas! Your younger boy may need a more visible boundary so providing them both with a container can help to keep arguments at bay.
Teach the ‘sharing’ rule.
There’s lots of great information about sharing and one of the key ideas is to remove yourself from the role of toy police in this situation. No timed turns, no asking a child to hand an item over. You simply teach your children to ask the other if they can have a turn when they’ve finished. They might want to play with the toy for a long time and it’s important to help the other child manage their feelings of disappointment and help them to wait if they need it. Often when a child isn’t being forced to hand something over they’ll do so much sooner anyway.
This is different from traditional ‘sharing’ where we often as an older child to give it to a younger child just because they’ve asked or we monitor 5 minute turns. The issue is that this doesn’t help our children learn to regulate their feelings. Often the less ‘forcing’ we do as parents, the more willing a child is to co-operate.
Treat them as individuals
We know that children respond differently to levels of activity and parental input. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make everything fair all the time. Think instead about meeting your sons’ individual needs and explaining this as you go along if they ask questions.
Make a little time
If possible give each child some 1-on-1 time even if it’s only for 10 minutes. Bedtime can be a good time to instil this either using both parents or a staggered bedtime approach to make sure that they can both fill up their connection cup.
Okay, let’s talk Christmas. I might be wrong, but from your letter I’m wondering whether you find Christmas a bit much as well? Perhaps you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself to make Christmas one long round of fun?
It’s important to think about how we as parents can ‘keep our cups full’ over the festive season (and opt out of things that make it seem harder than it needs to be?) It might ruffle a few feathers but perhaps reducing your social schedule, the number of presents you buy and the expectations on you might make you feel a bit calmer and centred at Christmas too.
If there is anything I’ve learned from working with families and becoming a parent myself it’s that our moods impact on our children far more than we’re aware of.
While it’s hard to reduce the overstimulation of Christmas there are steps we can take to keep things a little calmer.
Get outside as much as possible.
It’s dark and cold but thirty minutes racing around the park after school might just help to take the edge off of a hyperactive bedtime. Children spend a lot of their school day sitting still and if they come home and mostly engage in stationary activities like TV then they’ve usually got energy to burn.
If you really can’t face outside, have a dance competition or some good old-fashioned rough and tumble play. If their energies are redirected they’ll have less of it left to take out on each other!
So often the Christmas focus is on presents and eating, which are both enjoyable but can also be a little unsatisfactory after a while, hence the common January cravings for a healthier diet.
Focus instead on the fact that you are having some time together as a family. Move away from playing the Santa card to control behaviour and engage in activities that create feelings of connectedness and fun. Baking, making your own cards and collecting pine cones to decorate the house can give focus to long afternoons.
Don’t abandon the routine
It’s tempting at Christmas to throw normality out the window, it’s all late bedtimes and chocolate buttons before breakfast. Often as adults we’re guilty of getting children over-excited because we love to see them have fun, but then not being able to deal with the resulting fallout.
Schedule downtime for you and your family where you go for walks or snuggle up and watch a movie, avoiding the overstimulation that can come with all the Christmas hype.
If you’re interested check out our blog on how to have a mindful and simple Christmas.
We’d like to wish all the Mumbler members a very happy Christmas and we’ll look forward to answering more of your questions in the New Year.
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