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Christmas and the Great Expectations!

Nov 28, 2021

Christmas is a month away, eeek how did that happen?

How is it only a  month till Christmas 🎅 

Last year I was surprised when I first saw Christmas trees going up by the end of November, but, bearing in mind the year we had just had in 2020, I soon realised the Winter festivities were a much needed distraction for most people.

It’s the same this year too. What with restrictions and shortages, it’s not surprising so many people are planning a lot further in advance. However, although a month can seem a relatively long time for us adults, it can really drag for children and seem more like three months, especially with all the different demands placed upon them coming from all angles.

Demands which come in many forms…

Expectations on how to behave. Expectations on taking part in things. Expectations to have a ‘Happy’ time.  

Changes in school routines. Changes in daily activities. Changes in the people around them. 

Demands on their sensory processing abilities. Demands on having to be around more people than usual. Demands on ‘controlling’ their emotions.

This time of year can be quite challenging for a lot of children, but for those who have sensory processing challenges, anxiety levels are very likely going to have higher peaks than usual. The potential for each year to become memories of stress as they get older, rather than the traditional ‘joyous occasion’, can mean their individual triggers become harder to manage. Not just for themselves, but for others around them.

Let’s look at some examples:

Lights. Everywhere. They twinkle, sparkle, change colours, have rapid flashes, and often have a low humming noise that as adults we may not be able to hear. Now many of us as adults and children, find them relaxing, soothing, warming, and can embrace that ‘cosy’ feeling we often associate with fairy lights on a tree.

Smells. Textures. Noises. The same music being played everywhere. (That one irritates most of us I think!)

A nightmare for kids with sensory processing challenges.

School activities and routines change and become highly focused on, having fun, joining in, practising, preparing, far more than the rest of the year. Home activities… let’s just say ‘DITTO’.

Can you always remember which day is Christmas Jumper Day, School Christmas Dinner, the Christmas Fayre, and the Christmas Play they’ve been rehearsing for since the beginning of November?

I remember my son once saying, “Why do we need to keep doing the practice, I know what I’m doing!”. He really struggled with the sensory impact of spending every afternoon in the school hall with so many children in one place so the noise would be heightened. Just to practise the play or carol singing.

I wish I’d suggested he did something else during this time as he often didn’t like being on stage and preferred being behind the scenes. But at the time I didn’t realise just how overwhelming it was for him.

Often, it seems that everyone else thinks all these activities are FUN,  but it can be more stressful and overwhelming for them, especially if they are struggling to mask how they really feel. And this is when we see behaviour that could be considered as ‘naughty’ by many of those around them, putting them into a higher level of anxiety as they can’t always fully express how everything is making them feel.

Mostly, it is EVERYTHING all at once in a short space of time that is really not helping. It can suck the joy out of pretty much all things to do with this time of year, and that’s how the dread sets in for next year!

So how can we support them during this time.

I learned to ask in advance for a list of the festive activities going on at school. This gave our family time to talk about these activities and prepare as much as possible before the events. It also gave me advance warning of the days when my kids might be struggling to keep up and have that, ‘emotive explosion’, as soon as they get in the car after school.

It’s a time to reduce demands and expectations on them. This can be letting go of normal expectations that you have of things that they ought to do. Speaking to their teachers to find out what level of participation they are expected to undertake and perhaps suggesting alternatives if you know this is going to create more anxiety.

I often hear parents say they are worried their children will think they have ‘won’, by not having to do something which cause them stress and anxiety, and that they might always expect this. My experience is when my son can do something, he will and his emotions about doing things ebb and flow.

Let’s face it. As an adult we have a choice about all of the above. We can choose not to take part in activities we don’t want to do. We can choose our own self-care by not taking on too much, recognising when we need a break, and weaving in simple ways to look after ourselves. Our children might try to express their choices too, but the rules are different aren’t they. The expectations and demands on them this time of year are far greater than ours.

What piece of kindness can you give yourself and your family during this time? Mine is lessening my expectations of achieving everything.

And for my children, I make sure I help them from being overloaded with all those ‘things’! Does it really matter if they would prefer to sit quietly in the library than in a school hall practising for a play? Is not going carol singing going to ruin their education? Are they going to turn round to you in 5 years and say, “You are a terrible parent for not forcing me to wear a Christmas Jumper even though you know I find them itchy and uncomfortable”!

I ask myself this; will it bother me in 6 months’ time?  

My answer is normally No.