According to Liane Comeau, rituals are also part of the recipe for a successful Christmas: “Ideally, you want your children to be involved in the preparations. For example, you could ask them to help you make decorations or bake Christmas cookies.”
Comeau adds that you can also organize special activities for the whole family that your child will come to associate with the holidays (e.g., a snowball fight after dinner or spending all of Christmas Day in pajamas).
A big part of the magic of Christmas is that the holiday gives everyone, both young and old, the chance to do things they don’t normally do, such as eating more treats or staying up past bedtime.
Keep in mind, however, that these sudden changes can be overwhelming for children who are particularly attached to their routines. “If this is the case for your child, make sure you don’t introduce too many new activities all at once,” says Nadia Gagnier. If you think your child might not be interested in the activities you’ve planned, it’s a good idea to talk to them about it a day or two in advance so that they have time to prepare. “And don’t forget to put a positive spin on things by saying how much fun it’ll be and that you’ll never be out of sight,” says Gagnier.
“The elves and a machine with wheels drop the presents into Santa’s bag.”
In terms of meals and snacks, an occasional shift in schedule shouldn’t be a problem, so long as your child’s needs are met. At the same time, according to nurse clinician Évelyne Martello, a sleep specialist at Montreal’s Rivière-des-Prairies hospital, it’s usually best to stick to the same schedule. Why? When children get tired or hungry, they’re more likely to become agitated or throw a tantrum in certain situations (e.g., while playing with other kids or when they have to share their presents).
A baby’s first Christmas is generally a cinch, since infants aren’t fully aware of what’s happening around them, says Gagnier. However, things can get tricky the following year: “Once children learn to walk, they can get anxious at the sight of a bunch of adults crowding around them wherever they go, especially if everyone wants to give them hugs and kisses at the same time.” If that happens, Gagnier recommends letting your little one start the evening away from the action, such as in a separate room. Later on, if your child is up to it, you can discreetly bring them out to say hello to their relatives.
The holidays can also disrupt young children’s sleep schedules. “The key is maintaining kids’ routines as much as possible, especially past the age of 18 months, to make sure they’re getting enough sleep,” Martello advises. It’s best to try to keep up their nap schedule. If you have to go out, the car ride could also give your little one a chance to rest. Children under 18 months old will notice the unusual activity going on around them, but most will have no trouble adjusting.
“When they have people over, parents have to be ready to accept that their children will go to bed at a different time or fall asleep in their arms,” says Martello. “Since we’re talking about exceptional circumstances, it’s important to be flexible.”
“Santa must be hungry because he ate all the cookies.”
If the festive hubbub is keeping your child awake, Martello suggests having her listen to soft music or creating some sort of steady background noise in her room. “A fan, for example, can help drown out other noises, making it easier for your child to fall asleep,” she explains.
Source: Naître et grandir magazine, December 2013
Research and copywriting: Marie-Josée Cardinal
Scientific review: Diane Dubeau, professor of psychoeducation and psychology, UQO