Friday 28 October 2016

Dr David Coleman: How to avoid a Christmas meltdown

Spending time with family is what the festive season is all about, but it's not without its stresses, so our parenting expert has some tips to make your holiday visits (with children in tow) a success

Published 15/12/2015 | 02:30

Christmas brings its own stresses.
Christmas brings its own stresses.

Christmas is coming, and for lots of us that will mean packing bags, loading up the car and hitting the road to visit our relatives, either as a day trip or a bit of a holiday. Needless to say, when we have children, even the most simple trips need a bit of preparation. Your Christmas visiting is no exception!

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Here are my top tips for travelling with children:

1 Think about using public transport

When you have a family, it can sometimes prove to be more expensive to use buses and trains, but the benefit of such travel is the novelty. With a bit of planning and some luck, you may get good family deals.

I especially like the fact that on trains, your children can get up and move around. Even the place names can be a bit of a distraction for the children as you arrive at each new stop.

2 Plan for some comfort

With small children, it is often a great idea to travel at night when they are ready for sleep. Getting them into PJs and snuggling them up in their car seats can mean a quiet and direct car journey, with few tears and no stops.

A friend and I were recently on a journey with three teenagers and my friend produced cushions and blankets from the boot, and there wasn't a moan about the cramped conditions in the back seat!

3 Give yourself plenty of time

Rushing to get out the door with all of your children and teenagers for a long car journey, having packed the bags and packed the car, is a recipe for stress for most of us. So, give yourself an extra hour to be out the door so that you can then have time to stop for emergencies (like the wee that won't wait, or the nausea that won't go away), or for comfort (even just a stretch of the legs can lift the spirits of all your weary travellers).

4 Plan some non-digital entertainment

I'm an old-fashioned fan of "I spy…", or the alphabet game, or lateral thinking-type puzzles to pass the time. Here is a link to a list of eight such car-based games:

Books, travel-sized games, word searches, plasticine (although it can end up all over the seat), sticker-books and colouring books can all help pass the time.

5 Make snacks and water available

All things in moderation, and eating and drinking in cars definitely falls into this category. However, you'll find that some irritations are held at bay if tummies are not empty and folks are not dehydrated. Avoid sweets or sugary treats if you can, as it can be hard to stop nibbling and the demands for more may become unbearable.

With luck, then, your journey to visit your own parents, or brother or sister, will have gone smoothly.

Now all you have to organise is to survive the visit yourself.

6 Think more about where you are going than who you are going to visit

Plan for the space you will be occupying. If you know that your mum has all her precious ornaments within easy reach of your toddler, remind her in advance to put them away. If your brother has no garden, then plan for a trip to the park such that your children can run off the excess energy somewhere.

Think about whether the house you'll be visiting is small (with everyone cramped in on top of each other) or large (with space for children to get lost or get up to mischief), and plan accordingly.

7 Don't overstay your welcome

Older parents may love you to come and visit, but might be equally delighted when you leave as their peace is restored. So, try to stay attuned to the prevailing mood in the house and hit the road if it all seems like it is too much.

Also, don't assume that your family is easily accommodated in the one house, and offer to farm yourselves out to several relatives if they are close by!

8 Think about the sleeping arrangements if you are staying for more than a night

We can all survive on one night's bad sleep, but if it is all too cramped and you or your children are sleeping badly, you'll find that tempers start to flare and patience is frayed.

Fresh air and lots of exercise are the antidote to the tiredness and grumpiness if you know you'll be staying put for a couple of days.

9 Be a good guest

There are lots of aspects to "good guestness". For a start, bring a nice treat, preferably something your hosts can enjoy when you've gone. Bring and share is a great way for families to get together without one person bearing the load of cooking and preparing, but it's still lovely to discover that special box of choccies when the guests are gone.

Then, remember that your children are your children and it is still your job to mind them, even when you are with your extended family.

Finally, don't just offer to tidy up or wash up - actually do it. You know how much mess you generate in your own home, and that isn't lessened by being in someone else's house.

After all of that, hopefully you, your immediate family and your extended family will experience the peace and blessings of Christmas as you enjoy each other's company.

Here's to some great family time this holiday season!

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