Tips to manage emotional health this Christmas

What does Christmas look like this year?

As we write this, coming to the end of Lockdown 2.0, we are buoyed by the news of vaccines and an irresistible glimpse of a return to normality forecast for later in 2021. But between now and then, we face a Christmas period that is looking very different from anything we’ve experienced previously: a Christmas in the middle of a global health crisis.

We now know that we will be able to mix with three households for a limited time over the Christmas period. Despite this, it will be a very different festive season for many – larger gatherings with family and friends will not be possible, and for some, there is loss, whether it’s the loss of a job or income, or a friend or family member.

Challenges during the Holidays for adults and children

Emotional wellbeing is always top of our agenda at Family Links, and no more so than at Christmas, which – even without COVID-19 - can be a time of mixed feelings with pressure to please others and unreasonable expectations of ourselves and our relationships. After the year we have all come through, it’s perfectly normal to find our children’s behaviour and our personal relationships more challenging, so what are the priorities as we navigate Christmas during the COVID-19 pandemic?

It’s easy to believe that it’s the amount of money we spend, and the size of the meal we produce, that will make Christmas a success or failure. In reality, research tells us that it is much more likely to be the amount of fun we can have and our ability to share family time together.

Routine and structure are important for children, but so is the excitement of deviating from them on special occasions and developing our own traditions.

Anything that feels different and brings the family together: a Boxing Day football game, staying up late to watch a film together tucked up under duvets, allowing everyone to choose their favourite flavour of ice cream, each having their own tub to eat on Christmas day, rather than bothering with Christmas pudding that nobody really wants to eat.

Activities and ideas to try

Having a few varied activities up your sleeve can make all the difference. There is a huge range of easy festive baking recipes or creative activity ideas available online, and dressing up and putting on shows is always a hit. If you’re feeling more ambitious, the Oxford Playhouse has put together an entire show for you to create at home. And Family Links has a list of ideas for free or cheap activities to try, as well as some top tips for a calmer, happier, family life.

Our children have lived through this year with us, so they are all-too-familiar with the disruption to their own relationships and daily lives. Technology can be a distraction from family time but it is also a great way to connect with family and friends we can’t see in person – grandparents and others can still enjoy the shows or creations via smartphones or laptops!

Noticing and taking care of your emotional health and wellbeing

An important component of emotional health is understanding and responding to our own feelings and needs, as well as those of others, and the holiday season can be a particularly tough time for adults. With heightened financial pressures and everyone at home, space is limited and relationships can fray. Learning to be aware of our own needs and feelings, and taking responsibility for them is good for us, and a good model for our children. Try to be aware of when you might need to take care of yourself for a moment, whether it’s a walk around the block, a soak in the bath, or a phone call with a friend, and explain to those around you what you are doing and why it is important for you.

Taking time to look after ourselves is not selfish, it is essential if we are to have the physical and emotional energy to invest in others.

Whatever you celebrate, and whatever form it takes, we wish you a healthy and happy time. And remember that for a child, a warm, responsive and involved parent is the best present of all, even if a new scooter is top of their Christmas list!

If you need more tools to help you navigate this Christmas, take a look at The Parenting Puzzle, our best-selling and practical guide to parenting toddlers to teens.