Children thrive on routines and consistency, and when plans change last minute, they can often find it difficult
This year, many people have had to scale back their Christmas plans due to uncertainty around restrictions and the new Omicron variant.
If you’ve decided to stay at home instead of travelling to see relatives, or just have dinner with your immediate family and household instead of hosting a big celebration, you may be wondering about the impact on your kids.
“Children thrive on routines and consistency, and when plans change last minute, they can often find it difficult,” says parenting expert Georgina Durrant, author of 100 Ways Your Child Can Learn Through Play.
How they react can differ according to their age. Younger children, Durrant says, “may not be able to understand fully the reasons for the change. They are also less likely to be able to see it from someone else’s viewpoint, not through any fault of their own, which makes it tougher.”
Older children, meanwhile, may struggle because they’re “more aware of the sacrifices they have already made over the last year-and-a-half-plus, and feel the injustice of it all,” Durrant adds.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be all doom and gloom on Christmas morning. Durrant says: “I think we’ve all discovered over the pandemic just how amazing children are in difficult situations. They often rise to the challenge and show us a thing or two about adapting.”
Here’s how to tackle a last-minute change in Christmas plans for your family, plus some ideas for still making it special and fun…
Talk to your children about what’s happening
To start with, have a conversation with your kids about why your Christmas plans have changed. “What’s key to helping them through it is honesty and giving them some control over the situation,” says Durrant. “Also, being there to listen to their frustration and letting them know it’s completely understandable to feel that way.”
That doesn’t mean you have to go into great detail about the pandemic with young children, though. Try to explain “openly and simply, in an age-appropriate way that won’t scare them, that plans are changing to keep us all safer.”
Ask them what they want to do
So, Christmas might look a little different – but let them feel involved. Allowing kids to choose what you do as an alternative to previous plans, can help give them a sense of control in the face of uncertainty.
Durrant advises: “For younger children, you could simply give them two options for the change in plan. For example, ‘We can’t do the party anymore but would you like to do X or Y?’ For teens, it may be that you explain a bit more about the situation and ask them for their opinion on what you should do as a family. Show them that you are fully listening and taking on board their thoughts and opinions.”
Get kids involved with the cooking
If the grown-ups usually commandeer the kitchen, while all the kids play with their toys in the living room, why not switch it up and get everyone involved with cooking? A sprout-hating teen might like to whip up a recipe they’ll actually enjoy, or little ones might have fun wrapping the pigs in their blankets.
Make it fun
“The best gift you can give your children is your time,” says Durrant. “If your plans have changed, use it as an opportunity to spend quality time together and make special memories.”
Ask the little ones what they’d love to do. Maybe it’s an afternoon of baking and icing festive biscuits, crafting Christmas tree decorations, or making a den out of pillows and blankets.
Or you could surprise them with something special like a treasure hunt leading all around the house (hide the clues at night while they’re asleep), or a movie night complete with popcorn and sweets.
Durrant suggests: “Have an at-home family Christmas disco. Play the music, dance like no one is watching, and show your children your silly side. Extra points if you dust off the disco ball! Or set up a tent in your house and let the kids sleep in it or play in it.”
Have an online party
If the kids are sad they won’t be able to spend time with their best friends or favourite cousins, set up a family Zoom party, with lots of games and activities to keep it interesting (and no, it doesn’t have to be quiz if you got sick of those during first lockdown). You could start by setting a family fancy dress challenge and seeing who can come up with the craziest costumes.
Durrant says: “There are so many options now of things to do via Zoom. Older teens may enjoy a murder mystery activity for example. Or younger kids may enjoy Pictionary.” There are several online versions, such as Drawize and Skribbl.
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