In the lead up to Christmas this year, there were a lot of blog posts about coping with Christmas and helping your children cope with Christmas.
It was interesting to see how those blog posts covered all manner of topics dealing with;
- Crowds and over-stimulation
- Relatives who couldn't (or didn't want to) understand your child's issues
- "Surprise" Management
- Junk food issues
- Travel difficulties
- Gift-Reaction Management
- General change management (because Christmas throws every routine out)
There were all kinds of discussions about preparing your child and family for Christmas. Some of them, if read by the wrong people would have made the children seem like "spoiled brats" and some were against the very nature of Christmas (in my opinion only).
An Example from our household
I'm quite big on "surprises", so I don't generally like surprise management tactics where you let your child know what to expect as a gift. This year, our kids got a new trampoline. In the lead up to Christmas I did mention a few times that we'll probably have get rid of the old one soon because it looks like it's about to break. In fact, the trampoline cooperated with me by unexpectedly "throwing a spring" at the boys a few days before Christmas. I never hinted that we'd get a new one but hinting that the old one would need to go soon was the way I did my surprise management.
Learning the Hard Way
When I think back to when I was young and the times when I was less than gracious, it seems to me that sometimes surprise management is a bit unnecessary. Sometimes the child simply needs to learn "the hard way".
I can remember one year, asking my parents for a bike. In further discussions, they told me how expensive it was and I changed my mind and told them that I didn't want one. They'd obviously already bought one by then, so I think I probably caused them a lot of discomfort.
It wasn't that I didn't want the bike but that I'd realised that if I got a bike, I'd get less presents generally. It was a greed thing.
On Christmas morning I was initially quite disappointed to find that I had a bike but then when I discovered that I had other presents, I calmed down and relaxed. That bike was the best Christmas present I ever got. I had it for years and I rode it everywhere. My initial reactions are long forgotten but everyone remembers my years of love of the bike.
I find that even as an adult, I have this kind of issue. Sometimes it's greed sometimes it's simply my analytical mind. Sometimes I get a present which doesn't fit into my world and I'm ungracious. I wish I could stop that initial reaction but I can't. Sometimes it takes me a few days, even weeks to become accepting of a present. I can remember my mother getting used to the fact that I had to have a new shirt hanging in my closet for a month or two before I could wear it.
Surprise management would help in some cases because then I could get used to the idea before the "gifting". Unfortunately, that would take away the joy of the initial reaction. I also genuinely love surprises which fit immediately into my world and would resent these moments being taken away from me.
The point is that I adapt. At these times my own surprise management kicks in and I think I learn a lot about myself every time it happens. I don't want someone to "surprise manage" me - and I sometimes wonder if our children feel the same way.
Obviously this isn't going to work for every child but sometimes I think you do need to let the child learn to self-manage. Sometimes they need to understand how the wrong reactions can hurt people and sometimes they need to simply learn to cope by themselves.
It all works out... eventually
It was nice to read all the follow-up posts on people's blogs. I think I only read one "bad Christmas story" and that was all due to unsympathetic relatives. The kids all coped really, really well. In fact, they coped so well that I wonder how much of that coping was due to pre-Christmas preparation and how much was due to the kids simply "coping".
I'm not advocating a complete absence of pre-Christmas preparation for your child. I certainly had a good talk with my kids about showing appreciation for gifts and about not having a meltdown. The general rule was, be good on the day because "we can fix it later". I talked about one child getting a "better" present, or someone getting something they already had or didn't like. I also covered sharing and what to do if one of their gifts suddenly broke.
I think that talk was critical.
I also talked to the boys about taking time out, what to do if they felt stressed or overloaded.
This year, since we were at our own house, that was less critical but it was still a discussion worth having. At least the boys know that they have somewhere to go if it all gets too much.
I just feel that to go much further is to over-manage and that children will find their own ways of coping. Sometimes they can surprise you with their abilities and after all, if you don't let them exercise their coping skills, how are they expected to develop them?