Top Ten Tips for Surviving Christmas with Young Children
It might only be September and a guide to surviving Christmas with young children might seem premature. BUT just yesterday (Sept 7th) our local garden centre Frosts website had a meltdown due to their booking site crashing. Every mum in Milton Keynes was trying to get that coveted Santa ticket on just the right day and time. A quick glance at their facebook page is insightful mums aren’t holding back in the comments.
Christmas is brutal!
We all want the instagram worthy perfect looking Christmas, but to bring that to life there is a lot of work and pressure on families and often the mum to make it all happen. I’ve written a handy guide for a smooth festive season, surviving Christmas with young children is possible, without stress and drama – I promise!
1. Seeing the Big Man
The stress starts way before December in fact it can be as early as August…
Our first experience
We fell into the trap of seeing the big man in the “must see” location. The first year it was great, apart from the fact Bilbo was terrified.
Our second experience
On the second year I was left feeling a bit meh – I couldn’t believe i’d blocked time in my calendar to be online to snag the tickets.
We went through the same motions as the previous year and when you’re sharing the experience with a room full of tired, over excited, terrified and snotty strangers i’m not sure i’m quite seeing the magic.
Our third experience
The third year we broke with tradition and switched it up. Granted it was because we missed our slot and the venue had NO flexibility with my error! When we asked which Santa Bilbo liked the most it turns out he remembers the one in the local church that cost me £3 so lesson learned…
Last year we went to the a cheaper garden centre, the boys both got a box of Lego everyone was happy, no one was stressed WIN WIN!
Top Tips for Seeing the Big Man
- Don’t get sucked into the hype, think about your own child’s nature and comfort levels and pick accordingly
- Read reviews and feedback online, is the Santa realistic or is it a kid dressed up, will you get one on one time with the Big Man? What does the entire experience entail, how long will it take? and will your child enjoy the experience?
- What gift do they get? Do you pick? This is an important question because if you’ve spent some significant £££’s your want some return on your investment
2. Christmas Boxes
These weren’t a thing when I was a kid but since i’ve had my boys they’ve become a thing.
What is a Christmas box?
They come in two forms, one that is delivered on 1st December, it may include the advent calendar, it might be delivered by the Elf see number 3 top tip. Or one that is delivered on Christmas Eve. Either way the premise is they are filled with Christmas goodness, pj’s, Christmas movies, games, puzzles.
For the first year we had a box I went for the Christmas eve option. But it seemed a bit barmy to give Bilbo Christmas pj’s on Christmas eve when he’d basically get one or two days wear out of it. He also wanted to watch Christmas movies all month. We also booked our santa visit on Christmas eve, so I was faced with this box full of stuff and no time to do any of it, whilst feeling guilty I wasn’t making memories and starting traditions. This was the start of me realising that social media has a lot to answer for.
In all honesty most of what it is being sold to us is absolute BULLS**T. DON’T GET SUCKED IN!
So on 1st December I trot out the Christmas duvet, the Christmas Pj’s make an appearance and the kids get an advent calendar and then on Christmas Eve…I make it up as I go along although we do have a tradition of watching The Snowman before bed because I did as a kid and some traditions are hard to break.
Top Tips for Christmas Boxes
- If you want one I can highly recommend my friend at Tiger Boo Gifts does a lovely personalised box.
- Things you can include which my boys love: Colouring Books, Puzzles, Christmas Crafts (hobbycraft is great for these) biscuit making kits, gingerbread house kit and Christmas stories.
- Christmas Movies we love: Santa Claus the Movie, The Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Elf.
We’d love to know what items you include in your Christmas box and your favourite Christmas movies pop a comment below and let us know.
3. Elf on a Shelf
Or as I like to call him evil little creeply doll. For the last few years my facebook feed has been filled with pictures of the evil Elf on a Shelf up to various antics. Last year it was eerily quiet either my friends have realised what an absolute nightmare the tradition is, they don’t want to be “that” mum or the novelty has finally worn off.
The premise is that the Elf turns up on 1st December, he arrives providing a North Pole breakfast, think winter wonderland high on a mountain of sugar…the evil creepy doll brings the December madness with him, Christmas PJ’s, duvets, December boxes or Christmas Eve boxes, (more on that later) and the advent calendars.
Each night the parents have to come up with ideas for the elf to get up to whilst the kids sleep. The kids aren’t allowed to touch or move him – even the parents have to use tongs to move him during the day if his antics are getting in the way of real life. Check out this Pinterest link for the best (and worst) of Elf on a Shelf
We’ve never got into it and I can tell you we certainly never will.
Top Tips for Elf on a Shelf
If you’re into surviving Christmas with young children DON’T DO IT!
4. Switching on of lights
We love this, whether it is our local shopping center or the local high street. Seeing the lights come on and the magic begin gives me all the feels for the festive season.
Top Tips for Seeing Christimas Lights
- Check out your local facebook groups for where and when the light switch on will be
- Make a day of it, if it is your local high street there will probably be charity stalls and activities happening throughout the day. Wrap up warm and embrace the mulled wine and Christmas music belting from every corner
- If the weather is looking miserable look for table top Christmas sales that are indoors, we have a few craft fayres in our local leisure centre. Facebook is a good source of information for these local events.
Also look out for local neighborhoods who go to town decorating their houses. We have one a 5mins drive. We always pick an evening to pop down and admire the lights. Don’t forget to take some small change most will be collecting for charity and it is nice to give back.
5. The Tree
Every year we buy a real tree, it isn’t the cheapest way to bring the magic of a Christmas tree into our house but it is one of my favourite Christmas traditions we have as a family.
Real Christmas trees can be bought at supermarkets, IKEA, local farms, farmers markets and greengrocers.
Top Tips for Buying A Real Tree
- Where you buy your tree makes all the difference. Whilst supermarkets and IKEA are cheap they might not last the entire month of December. Fresh trees from a farm will last a lot longer.
- We visit a local farm for ours in Stoke Goldington. They grow two types of tree and charge by the metre.
- I prefer the Norway Spruce as I like the smell and its colour.
- Nordmann Fir is Rich and the kids choice, they aren’t supposed to drop their needles and they have good branches for hanging the decorations off.
- Whatever tree you pick, make sure you have a nice even shape all the way around. You don’t want a lopsided tree.
- Ask the team at the farm to cut off excess branches so you have a nice stump to put into your tree pot.
- Make sure you have a pot that will allow you to water your tree.
- If you’re going to put the tree close to a radiator, consider turning it off or note you will have to feed the tree with lots of water if you keep it on. Central heating can really dry your tree out.
- Think about how you will get the tree out in January, it will likely be shedding its needles and can be very messy have an escape plan.
6. Decorating the Tree
Make a decision up front, are you doing this with or without the kids? If you’re a control freak, if you like your tree to have order and each bauble has its place don’t even attempt to decorate with your children. Get someone to take them out whilst you take care of the tree or do it when they’re in bed. If you don’t mind assistance from small people then here are our top tips:
Top Tips For Tree Decorating
- If you’re going to let the kids get involved, get the tree standing and positioned before they join in
- Let the adults do the lights, you don’t need any incidents with electricity!
- Give the kids jobs, I let my eldest do specific baubles, he also loves throwing the Christmas parcels onto the branches
7. Christmas Eve
The run up to Christmas is exciting, but the crescendo is Christmas Eve. You’re on the home straight you are surviving Christmas with young children and then the sugar, excitement and pressure to deliver reaches boiling point.
Exasperated by the fact you probably have a million things to do and kids who are at their most hyperactive! Some families have introduced Christmas Eve boxes (see number 10 Christmas Boxes for more info on this one) having some activities helps. Some mums will have prepared back in August by booking their visit to Santa – queue smugness!
Whatever you choose to do, when it gets too much, take a deep breath and if all else fails grab a bottle of fizz, wine or gin!
Top Tips for Christmas Eve
- Keep your kids routine as much as possible, naps and bedtime in particular, tired kids on Christmas day will make everything harder
- Schedule in some time for fresh air, a walk in the woods a trip to the park all help with using up some of that excitement and making them tired enough to sleep despite the excitement
- Plan some quiet time, reading a book, doing a craft, watching a movie
- Don’t forget the treat for Santa and the reindeer!
- And my #1 tip ASK for help! If you don’t ask you won’t get and there is no point trying to be super woman, write a list divide and conquer
- Plan some chill out time for mum and dad too. Our tradition on Christmas Eve is to have a Chinese takeaway, wrap up the last of the presents and enjoy a well earned glass of fizz
It is really easy to get caught up in the commercialism of Christmas. We have been looking for ways to explain to our kids there are others who are less fortunate and that Christmas is a time for giving. We’ve done a couple of different things at Christmas.
For the last couple of years we’ve been making a hamper for a family. You don’t know much about them apart from who’s in the family and the age of the children. It is then up to you on how much or how little you spend on a gift. There is an expectation you will fill the hamper with some specific (non perishable) items. For example tinned meat, biscuits, dessert etc.
Building the hamper, making choices about what to include is a really great activity to do with your children. You can talk about the value of items and how to think of others.
If you’d like to help others at Christmas i’d suggest checking out the following:
Local Food Bank
- advent calendars to give out to children at the beginning of December (look for the posts on FB around November)
- food items from a list the Local Food Bank will provide on their website or facebook page
- hampers for local families – ours are posted on the food bank page late October/November
Homeless shelters, soup kitchens etc. are always looking for volunteers.
Make a donation to a charity
If you don’t have time you can always make a donation to a charity that is close to your heart.
For the first couple of years we went over board, Christmas 2014 Bilbo was opening presents 3 days after Christmas. One of the reasons for this was the volume but it was also because I don’t believe in ripping through the presents. We like to take time to open and appreciate the gifts.
Santa in our house uses the sacks below, he’s limited to a small gift the boys really want/need. Last year Bilbo asked for the Supertato books by Sue Hendra. I also add in other bits and bobs the kids need, toothbrushes, underwear and they always get a bath bomb.
We’ve been explaining that Christmas costs money and we’ve limited the gifts for the boys from us to things they need, rather than an endless pile of things they don’t need or want. How many times on Christmas morning have the kids pushed aside the gifts in favour of one thing or another. Or how many times have you ended up photographing piles of toys to resell online or create a pile for charity post Christmsa. I’ve been there and when i’ve added up the cost and expense I often feel a little sick. This doesn’t sit well with me especially when the rest of the year i’m volunteering with families who have nothing.
We’re trying to do better, trying to be less about the material items and focus more on the Christmas experiences to make the time magical. For us Christmas is about making the priority our boys, friends and family. Time means more than any gift.
Top Tips for Presents
- Do your children really need it?
- Will they really remember the item when they’re 20?
- Can you get it pre-loved (I WISH we’d bought the jumperoo this way)
- Where will you store it (flashback to the jumperoo 😉 )
- Can you afford it (there is no point getting in debt for Christmas)
- Will it last? If you’re going to buy something make sure it is durable and the best version, toys that break easily are the worst
- Don’t forget batteries and DOUBLE check what does or doesn’t come with them
- Make sure you have tools on hand, especially a Phillips screw driver
10. Christmas Day
You’ve made it to the finale…surviving Christmas with young children is within your grasp.
BUT note the big day can actually be the biggest anticlimax. For example it is winter, kids often get sick or worse you’re sick. We’ve had whole Christmas holidays where we’ve had the lurgy.
Before you get to the big day it is worth making a call early on where you will be and who will be involved. Once you have kids there are a lot more people who want to be there. Great but let them come to you if it is possible. The last thing you need is to be travelling all over the country when your kids just want to chill and play with their new toys. Christmas is like your wedding, it is your day too. Don’t be pushed into doing things you don’t want to.
Top Tips for Christmas Day
- Relax and go with the flow, your kids might be up at 4:30am shouting “he’s been” but they might be tired from all the fun the previous day and choose to lie in. They say don’t wake a sleeping baby the same rules apply to kids. If you wake them you will pay later in the day
- Don’t put to much pressure on the young ones to keep opening presents, the experience is overwhelming, pace them stretch it out over the whole day, let them appreciate the gifts
- Accept they may be just as happy playing with old toys or wanting the comfort of watching something “normal” on TV
- Stick to your routine, try and honour nap time and quiet time if that is what your kids need to recharge
- If you have a house full of people, don’t be afraid to assign tasks. Even if it is watch the kids or in our case build the playmobil vet set please Uncle Gavin.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything you can do to relieve the stress and help with surviving Christmas with young children. I’d love to hear from you, what are your top tips?
And if all else fails do what we’re doing this year and book a holiday we were away last year in Thailand and it was a blast and super chilled: Koh Samui with Kids
Our Other Top Tips Blogs: