The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Charlie Roden

Managing Christmas expectations

What can we do to stop unrealistic expectations taking the joy out of Christmas, and how can we keep emotionally well during the hectic festive period? 

The pupils of Lessness Heath made their own Christmas decorations

Last week I was very kindly invited to Lessness Heath Primary School's 'Family Matters' workshop, a weekly drop-in that empowers parents and carers by focusing on emotional wellbeing and building positive relationships. 

In their final session of the year, wellbeing lead Kelly Hannaghan led a workshop on managing Christmas expectations. Although an exciting and magical time, Christmas can also be overwhelming and stressful, and unrealistic expectations can end up taking the joy out of the festive season.

In fact, over a third of us feel stressed around Christmas, mostly because of the cost of presents and not knowing what to buy.

Christmas can also be hard for those who:

  • have to take out loans to afford presents
  • have negative past experiences of Christmas
  • have lost or are estranged from family 
  • have experienced trauma during past Christmases
  • spend the festive season on their own.

Managing expectations around presents

Today we live in a culture where people expect to get what they want, and social media and children's toy adverts have raised Christmas expectations to an unhealthy level.

Talk to children about gifts they can expect to receive, and what you think is appropriate. For young children in particular who are expecting Father Christmas to bring everything on their Christmas list, it's important to have a conversation with them about how much he can actually bring. 

Don't get sucked into the myth that your child's happiness depends on whether you choose the right Christmas present

Kelly had a fantastic idea of telling children that parents and carers give money to Father Christmas, and then he chooses presents with this money. This is also a good way of keeping in the spirit of Christmas when children ask "Why has Father Christmas brought so much for my friend and not for me?"

Hand-made presents

It's not just children that have such high expectations when it comes to Christmas presents. Talk to the rest of your family and friends about setting expectations, and think of alternative, hand-made presents for something more valuable but cost-effective. 

  • 12 months of pre-planned date nights. Think of 12 activities to do with your partner, friend or any member of your family. A picnic at the beach, a walk in the countryside, a home-cooked meal. You can find plenty of ideas with a quick Google search. 
  • Create one big family Christmas card and upload it to social media. This is a lot cheaper than buying lots of Christmas cards, better for the environment and a great way to spend time together as a family.
  • Create your own Christmas decorations. Instead of the school buying 600 Christmas crackers, the pupils of Lessness Heath created their own Christmas decorations. Again, more cost-effective, better for the environment and much more fun!

It's also important to set expectations about who you're going to buy for and how much you're going to spend. What's necessary and what's not?

Martin Lewis  It's time to ban unnecessary Christmas presents

'Naughty or nice'

Most parents at some point have told their children that if they're 'bad' or 'naughty', Father Christmas won't come; we need to be careful when using this sort of language around children.

Although most people aren't directly telling a child that they themselves are bad, if a child's behaviour is simply objectified as good or bad, over time this will have a negative impact on their self-esteem. This also won't help with a child's behaviour as if they see themselves as bad, they won't see the point in changing this behaviour.

We all want children to have a good sense of self. Instead of calling behaviour good or bad, point out exactly what the 'bad' behaviour is and tell them that it's not okay e.g. 'It's not okay to hit someone.' Also remember to point out 'good behaviour' e.g. 'Well done for sharing.' This encourages children to think more about their behavioural choices.

Keeping emotionally well at Christmas

But it's not just about presents. How can you avoid getting lost in the hustle and bustle of Christmas?

  • Take a break: many of us will be surrounded by lots of family and friends over Christmas. Take some time for yourself!
  • Everything in moderation: it can be tempting to overindulge. Fatty foods and alcohol can reduce feelings of stress, but don't use the festive period as a way to cover up any negative feelings. 
  • Talk about feelings: it's okay not to be okay, even at Christmas!
  • Get enough sleep: a lot of us have disturbed sleep over Christmas. When you can, try and stick to a routine. This will also help you sleep when you go back to work.

5 steps to enjoying the festive season

1) Keep it real

Don't get sucked into the myth that your child's (or anyone else's!) happiness depends on whether you choose the right Christmas present.

2) Be mindful of raising Christmas expectations

Your time is the most valuable gift of all.

3) Start an inexpensive tradition of Christmas gifts

Instead of spending too much money on extravagant gifts (or pointless tat that people don't actually want!) be the first person in your family or circle of friends to start giving out alternative, more meaningful gifts.

4) Have some down time

Whether this is sat in front of the TV watching Christmas films, going for a walk or reading a book, fit in some time to just relax.

5) Always be grateful

Christmas can spin out of control when high expectations are in place. Be grateful for what you have and the people you have around you. 

Family matters Christmas selfie!

Wellbeing for all

Looking to demonstrate a commitment to promoting wellbeing as a fundamental part of your school life?

The Wellbeing Award for Schools will lead you through a process of self-evaluation, action planning and accreditation. 

Find out more

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