Parents: How to keep your sh*t together this Christmas

Christmas is a time for family, fun and festive cheer.

If you’re like me, it’s also a time for screaming at your kids to pleeeeease stop hitting each other, gritting your teeth as you get covered in residue from lunch and counting the minutes to wine o’clock.

I’m not the patient type. I wish I were. I love my kids to bits and I love their joyfulness, creativity and energy. But my goodness life as a mum of three is exhausting and I often struggle to keep it together.

In my darkest hour, when my middle kid was very sick and my husband was working abroad I found a few coping strategies. They’re not miracle cures. The only way to a quiet household is contraception. Nevertheless, I hope the following tips help.

  1. Drink a large glass of water. By large I mean at least 500ml. It’ll take you time to drink it and in the meantime you won’t be able to scream. It forces you to take a little break and as you’re probably dehydrated from all the screaming, it’ll do your body good too.
  2. Check your pose. Stop and be mindful of your body pose – draw your shoulders down, soften your jaw, relax the tension in your knees. Check your body from to to toe. Sometimes just being mindful of the physical stress in my body helps me to ‘force’ my body to relax.
  3. Lie down. A genius tip from a fellow mum, this works better with older kids. The surprise element helps, so perhaps it’s not a trick to pull out every five minutes (‘Mum, what the hell are you doing?!’) but it can help detract kids from the feud, and from there you can get things back on track. You can also encourage your kids to lie down with you and from there they’re generally calmer.
  4. Fresh air. People would tell me that it’s always better when you take the kids outside but they fail to realise that it takes hours to get toddlers, babies or moody kids ready. When I just couldn’t get outside, I’d go to the balcony or window and breathe. It’s important to allow enough time; a minute may seem a long time with a screaming baby but it’s not enough to calm. Apart from the times he was just too sick, the white noise of the outdoors seemed to calm my baby (and me).
  5. Minute at a time. Another useless comment was ‘ohh, well don’t worry it won’t last forever, just try to get through the next few months‘. Months?! I can barely keep going to five o’clock, thank you very much. I personally found it much easier to concentrate on the here and now, breaking the day into much smaller segments, and rewarding myself mentally for getting through the next half hour.
  6. TV. Yes, we all know that children who watch TV turn into obese, zero IQ zombies, but hey Expater parents, chill. Half an hour of Telly Tubbies / Paw Patrol won’t kill. Don’t feel guilty. You need time off and you’ll be a more relaxed, better parent if you’re able to take some time for yourself. In our case we really have to get our kids to understand that they’re only getting one show however, or they turn into biting, kicking monsters when I switch the TV off.
  7. Company. Not always a feasible option, but I find that (nice) adult company can really help keep things in perspective. So what my kid just broke that zillion dollar vase? Let’s eat cake! Equally, inviting other kids over can actually be a blessing as they play together and generally whinge less.
  8. Calming toys. A trick from a nanny friend: kep a box of downtime style toys hidden, and bring it out exclusively when the going gets tough. Keeping it hidden keeps it special, so kids should be more interested. Think of calming, tactile toys such as rainmakers, wooden toys and books.
  9. Take another perspective. This is clearly the hardest of the lot, and it’s not fool proof, but try to imagine yourself in your kid’s shoes. Recently my kid had a meltdown because his homemade biscuit was broken by his brother. ‘Come on, it’s just a biscuit’ didn’t cut it as a reply. For him, that biscuit was like the excel spreadsheet I’d been working on for hours until my kid pressed delete. The Batman whose lost his head? Equivalent to a Hermes Birkin without the handles. I generally find it better to acknowledge how upset my kid is, to repeat his words so he knows I’m understanding ‘ohhhh I see… your biscuit got broken?’ and quickly move on to making it up (new biscuit) or distracting him (look at this…!)
  10. The water trick. When our kids get out of control we offer a warning: cold shower. Misbehave beyond that warning and you’re in the shower. When I’ve been out and about without access to a shower, I’ve even sprayed my kids with water. Now, let’s be clear – we live in Chile, we’re in 30 degree heat, so a refreshing shower isn’t such a punishment. If you’re in a colder climate, go easy. The main trick here is that the water switches from rage to ‘noooo! I don’t want a shower’ to forgetting what they were originally upset about. Cuddles round it off and 99% of the time you’ve got yourself a calmer kid.

Got any more to add to the list? Let me know in the comments below… and while you’re there, let me know what you think of this super bizarre Chilean Christmas tradition.

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