Protecting your child's emotional wellbeing when parents separate at Christmas

Protecting children’s emotional wellbeing when parents separate at Christmas

For families where the parents are separated Christmas can be a tricky time to navigate. Children can find themselves in the middle of conflicting views, ideas and demands that can cause a great deal of anxiety and guilt resulting in them carrying a heavy load which doesn't belong to them in the first place.

So how can you create a Christmas that lets your children have a happy one without all the stress?

Make plans in advance

Children feel secure when there are clear plans and order in their lives. So this step is an important one!

Communicate with your ex partner to come to an agreement where the child/ren can spend time with both sides of their families.

1. Can there be two Christmas days, with Boxing Day or Christmas Eve being the other one?

2. Organise a definite time of drop off/pick up and who will do these journeys.

3. Make sure you both stick to the plan.

4. Speak to other extended family members who may wish to spend time with the child/ren over the festive period also.

5. If possible plan Christmas presents that you both wish to buy your child/ren. You may come up with a plan to spread the cost between the both of you if money is an issue or just simply to make sure the same present isn't bought by both parents. This can cause annoyance that could result in conflict for yourselves.

Protect the child/ren from having to choose between you both.

It's never fair to put children in a position in which they must choose which parent to spend time with. It puts them under a huge amount of guilt and stress.

1.  Put the child/ren's needs before your own.

2.  Be united in the plans with the other parent when you present them to the child/ren.

What are the child/ren saying?

Maybe your child/ren are having ideas on how they would like to spend Christmas that could work well for the family.

1.  Listen to what they have to say.

2.  If you have older children, you could ask them how they'd like to spend the time, and do your best to accommodate this.

Communicating with the other parent

If this can be done, it is vital for the wellbeing of your child/ren and yourselves. It will outline clear strategies and guidelines for everyone involved.

1. Arrange a good time to talk to each other when the children aren't present and able to listen in on the conversation.

2. If things are nicely civil between you both, then arrange to meet or have a phone call and check diaries to see how things will fit in.

3. For many, meeting face to face or speaking on the phone simply isn’t an option, so an email is a great way to put your ideas across. This way you can really think about what you would like to say in a calm and composed manner. You also will have this for your record if needed.

4. Listen to each others ideas before you give a response back.

5. Keep your own personal issues as best you can out of the equation and make it only about the child/ren. If you feel upset make sure you speak to a family member or close friend afterwards as your outlet.

6. Remain objective and treat as you would a business deal or a work colleague.

It's a new season!

Use this time to make new memories with your child/ren. You may have had traditions as a family before that meant a lot to you all. If they still work and everyone is happy to keep them, then go for it!

However you may, as a family want to create new ones.

Here are some ideas to help you along...

Gingerbread house decorating

Choosing a charity to donate to

Christmas Eve movies with a duvet and snacks

Visiting Santa

Choosing new matching Christmas pyjamas

Homemade advent calendars

Visit a Christmas fete/market

Watch a pantomime

Open a present on Christmas Eve

Family sing song

Make Christmas cards for school friends and family

Baking Christmas goodies

Write letters to Santa

Start a Christmas ornament collection

Go out and about the neighbourhood light display spotting.

This really isn’t about winning but about your children’s wellbeing at this time. Put any grievances you are feeling on hold, in a box not to be opened until January, this takes strength of character but will pay dividends in the beautiful memories you create!

Sam Little

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