Five tips for navigating Christmas in a pandemic while caring for vulnerable children

For those of us caring for children who have experienced trauma, Christmas can be an interesting time...

What a year it has been! As Christmas draws closer, restrictions and permissions are being announced that will shape our festive period. For those of us caring for children who have experienced trauma, Christmas can be an interesting time as we manage these past experiences and the various expectations that can be put upon our children and our families (which can be unrealistic and unhelpful) from family or school – not to mention the high expectations that we can often put on ourselves. And all this amidst all the ‘normal’ madness that happens at this time of year.

So how might we have a ‘merry Christmas’ as we care for vulnerable children in 2020?

Perhaps for you, the restrictions actually provide some breathing space for you and your family, without quite as many school events to navigate or wider family expectations to manage. It might be that this year offers a little bit more routine that you can keep control of, which leads to less disruption for your children.

The restrictions on movement certainly removes an element of pressure to have to visit a range of relatives. Maybe you’ve even been feeling a little guilt at some of the unexpected benefits of a Covid Christmas.

Or maybe the prospect of Christmas in 2020 is quite overwhelming, particularly after the year we’ve all experienced.

Every family, situation and experience is unique, and perhaps you’ve got incredibly mixed feelings about the whole thing. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer or quick fixes to all this, but here are five general suggestions that might help you as you plan Christmas in a pandemic for your family.

Keep it simple

The first Christmas was pretty simple. It’s okay if yours is too – Amy Weatherly

We are often conned into thinking that for Christmas to be special, it must be full: of people, activities, outings, food and presents. While some of what we may be tempted by isn’t an option this year, perhaps we still need to resist the urge to find equally unhelpful substitutes.

Many of our children are continually learning to feel safe and secure in relationships and can do that because of the ‘normal’ rhythm and routine that we create for them. Whilst many of the extra things we may want to add in can be fun, if they increase stress, anxiety or uncertainty, then perhaps we need to reconsider?

Instead, perhaps seek to create healthy rhythms during this season. Space out some of the bigger things, like opening presents across a few days instead of all at once. Plan quieter Christmas-sy activities as well as louder ones so there is some down time when everyone has a chance to regulate emotionally. Perhaps we don’t have to prep the roast potatoes but could let ‘Aunt Bessie’ do it so we have more time with our kids? Or maybe Christmas dinner should actually be pizza and chips because that’s what everyone likes most?

This Christmas should be all about what your children and your family needs. Don’t feel the pressure to fill and complicate it.

Make it visual

Over the long summer holidays, many of us create visual timetables to help reduce our children’s anxiety about the unknown. Perhaps this year, more than ever, we need to be making one for the Christmas period?

Visualising what’s going to happen when can help our children understand what’s coming next as they feel safe that things are planned and important elements (like opening presents and seeing friends, albeit on facetime) won’t be missed. Some children can really benefit from being involved in the planning too, giving them a chance to own how their time will be spent and feel valued that their anxieties have been heard.

A visual timetable can actually help us too, as seeing an overview of the whole will ensure we have balance across the festive period and can schedule those all-important ‘down’ days, for you as well as your children. If you are able to form a three-household bubble with other adults your children trust and it’s possible to do it safely, maybe there’s even scope for an afternoon off for you?

If we are seeing other people over this time, particularly those children haven’t been able to have contact with for a while, let’s include on those timetables the additional things that are important for our children to know and understand in the midst of a pandemic. Can I hug people (if I want to)? Will I need to socially distance? Can we go in their house? Can I bring my dog? As so many parents and carers will naturally do, it’s important to try and consider every element from our children’s perspective to try and manage their understanding and expectations (although as we all know, sadly it’s usually impossible to cover every eventuality and question!)

Bend and flex

This is not an early new year’s fitness resolution but a reminder to us all! Let’s make sure that over Christmas we keep some flex in the stuff that doesn’t really matter. As adoptive mum and writer Sally Donovan so wisely says, “don’t sweat the small stuff”.

Sometimes Christmas makes us crazy, a Covid-Christmas even more so because we think it must be ‘perfect’ to compensate for the challenge of 2020. But the reality is my son will still want to eat cereal with no milk for breakfast on Christmas morning, just as he does for the other 364 days of the year, and that’s OK even though it’s Christmas (more cinnamon rolls for me!)

Maybe one of your children wants to wear a onesie all day while the rest of you dress up smart (or vice versa)? Maybe you need to tell your children what’s wrapped up for them under the tree instead of the ‘surprise’ because it eases anxiety? Maybe Father Christmas is a scary possibility for little ones who fear strangers coming in their house and you need to bust the myth early and stop playing along? Do what you need to do!

Advertising and social media is compelling at this time of year, but let's not be fooled into thinking a ‘perfect Christmas’ must look a certain way (or even really exists!)

Mull the wine

Or do whatever it is that will bring YOU some Christmas joy. For me, it’s the particular aromas that I love at this time of year of scented candles, mulled wine and did I mention cinnamon rolls?! While we lay down our lives for our family and adapt our Christmas to help them feel safe and loved, be sure to look after yourself.

Look for little ways that you can bring yourself some Christmas joy. If you love all things Christmas then get creative in how, where and when you express that. Treat yourself to a takeaway gingerbread latte and mince pie on the last day your kids are in school. Maybe even go and buy yourself a gift, particularly if your children can’t or won’t be able to. Do what you can, when you can.

Seek His presence

The word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us.
John 1:14

The miracle of Christmas is that God didn’t stay remote to us, our lives and brokenness, but stepped into them in order to redeem them. His promise is not the absence of struggle but His presence in them. In this year of distance He is so very close.

The greatest gift this season is Jesus. HE is the generous giver of comfort, strength, vision, peace and joy. Whatever, wherever and however you ‘do’ Christmas, seek Him above all else.

And know that the whole Home for Good team are praying for your children and all of you in this season. May you know His peace, hope, joy and love this Christmas.

Author:
Claire at Home for Good


Date published:
Monday 7 December 2020


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