The movie set imagery of beautifully wrapped gifts sitting underneath a tinsel-covered tree, carols playing in the background and a jovial family sharing food and laughs around a dinner table is unfortunately not the reality for many families. This year more so than ever.
Historically Christmas is an incredibly stressful time with 31% of Australians saying they feel obligated to spend more than they can afford and 1 in 4 adults experiencing anxiety*. Alarmingly, half a million people report experiencing fear of being physically or emotionally abused when thinking back to last Christmas.
This year more families may be struggling as a result of job insecurity, border closures and reduced income. We may head into Christmas longing for a sense of normalcy and grieving for the year that was.
We mustn’t forget our children feel the same thing. They’ve missed out on significant experiences at school and rites of passage with friends and may be anxious about what’s to come. This year there are children who will be feeling some of these emotions for the first time.
Children of all ages will almost certainly have heard messages around about what a difficult year it’s been, that 2020 has been a complete write-off or that the future is bleak. These statements aren’t helpful for children who are very intuitive and pick up when something’s not right. They may match the level of anxiety, stress or uncertainty expressed by the adults around them and become withdrawn, worry excessively or become defiant.
Children look to their parents for information about how to interpret ambiguous or stressful situations and it’s up to us to help ease their worries and feel safe again. However, many of us may be feeling the same anxieties as our children. With just over a month left of what has been a truly challenging year, now is the time to prioritise our wellbeing so that we don’t take the stressors of 2020 with us into 2021. Only when we focus on our own self-care, can we say we’re in the best position to support the care of others – including our children. If we constantly look after everyone else without looking after ourselves first, we’ll be left with an empty “vessel” – feeling tired, irritable and unhappy. As the old adage goes, “you can’t pour from an empty jug” and it’s impossible to keep giving unless you replace what has already been given.
With Christmas around the corner, we should all start off by accepting the year that was and processing our feelings about the challenges, the losses and sadness we’ve experienced. Try to identify and name what you’re feeling.
Then we need to focus on what we’re grateful for. What are the gifts we’ve already received this year that can’t be gift packaged with a neat little bow? Think about moments of connection, love and the simpler things in life. Create routines that support your mental wellbeing like healthy eating, regular exercise, sleep routines, regular check-ins and creative expression.
By spending the time now to look after ourselves and working through our feelings for the year, we’ll be in a better place to make wonderful memories with our children at Christmas, regardless of our circumstances.
Children will have experienced this year in very different ways but we don’t want them to refer back to 2020 as the worst year of their lives.
Talk about the year. Have a family conference and ask questions like, ‘What have we learned?’, ‘What was hard this year?’, ‘What was easy this year?’, ‘What do we want to leave behind in 2020 and what do we want to take with us going forward?’.
Preparing for Christmas this year is not about writing the year off because it didn’t pan out the way we wanted. It’s not about overcompensating to make everything feel “normal”. It’s about letting go of the losses we’ve had and celebrating the joys that we can bring forward into 2021.
*Roy Morgan Study for the Salvation Army Christmas Appeal 2018
KidsXpress hosted a free webinar which helps provide you with some practical self-care tools to help you survive the silly season, click here to access the webinar.
A children’s mental health charity, KidsXpress helps to transform the lives of children impacted by trauma and adversity. Established in 2005, KidsXpress sought to address the lack of services available to support children who were living with the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
Their world-first Expressive Therapy program combines the creative modalities of art, music, play and drama therapy to promote emotional growth and healing, while their leading trauma-focused education services help build the capacity of teachers and other child-welfare professionals to better recognise and respond to trauma-impacted children. KidsXpress is today considered a leader in early-intervention mental health services for the holistic way they address the insidious and cumulative effects of toxic stress before they become entrenched problems in adulthood.
The incidence of childhood trauma and toxic stress is estimated at 1 in 5 Australian Children (ACF, 2016; ASCA/Pegasus, 2015; Deloitte Access Economics, 2015), yet the implications of trauma are felt throughout the community. Our purpose is to stop trauma responses growing into adulthood. We deliver nationally accredited early intervention programs that create safety and regulation for children to process and overcome their traumatising experiences. The current cost to Australian society of unresolved childhood trauma is over $9 billion (Pegasus 2015) yet few services exist to help address the issue with specialist early intervention using best practice methods tailored for children. Independent research by Deloitte Access Economics (2015) calculated that our therapy programs return $2.80 of social benefit in the first year’s outcomes for every $1 invested in the program delivery.
Donate a gift to a child via KidsXpress this Christmas. Gifts will be delivered directly to our partner schools. This gift may be the only one many children will receive this Christmas.