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Christmas Meltdowns (for Both Kids and Adults)

Christmas Meltdowns (for both kids and adults)

Written by Kelsie Goller, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Clinical Director, KPS

Christmas can be the most wonderful time of the year… or it can be the time of the year when both ourselves and our kids are just minutes away from a meltdown on a moment-by-moment basis.  Several reasons spring to mind for why this may be true: first is that one of the primary causes of anger is when there is a mismatch between expectations and reality.  And there is a lot of expectation built up around the Christmas season.  Children may be expecting a long list of traditional activities to take place (cookie baking, gingerbread house decorating, seeing Christmas lights, getting gifts, etc.)  Parents may be expecting good attitudes or some peace and quiet.  Anger can result when expectations clash or go unfulfilled.  

A second reason is that relational tensions or relational losses from the previous year are most noticeable around the time that is traditionally for gathering with family and loved ones.  And a third reason is that there are just far too many activities to fit into the approximately three weeks that make up the first part of December before Christmas: class Christmas parties for kids, office Christmas parties, Christmas programs, festive house decorating, Christmas baking, Christmas cards, and of course the shopping for family members, friends, kids’ teachers, and all the other people on your list.  

Add to this the fact that this is the most expensive time of the year; looking at cumulative data from 1992 to 2022, Americans spent at least $69 billion more in December than any other month for retail/non-automotive products and 19% more than the next most expensive month, which is November (see the USA Facts report here.)  The financial stress may compound the other stressors, as all these expectations and activities frequently cost money.  

Additionally, if you are parenting a child with a sensitive nervous system (such as those who have had Adverse Childhood Experiences- see my previous post) then you may have already realized that these children often have a smaller window of tolerance (see my other blog post here for a fuller explanation of window of tolerance!)  This means that not only do they tend to become dysregulated and meltdown more quickly when they are faced with upsetting events, disappointment, or difficulties, but also that they will similarly have difficulty handling the stress of positive events, such as birthdays and (you guessed it) Christmas.  It is no surprise that meltdowns simmer just under the surface during this season for both kids and adults.  

While it will take some deeper work (preferably earlier in the year when there is more time) to work on underlying causes of Christmas meltdowns, take a mindful moment right now to check in with yourself about how you are doing this Christmas season.  If you find during your mindful moment that you are not okay, I invite you to do two things that will take only ten minutes.  First, center yourself with a breathing exercise.  I recommend:

After you have calmed your mind and heart, focus on these three questions for the remainder of the ten minutes:

~What do you truly love and are truly grateful for about this Christmas season?  

~What are you dreading during this Christmas season?

~How can you do/have more of what you love and less of what you dread in this month?   

This may mean letting go of expectations or intentionally lowering others’ expectations in some areas.  This may mean finding a way to delegate some things.  In the face of relational loss or relational tension, this may mean focusing on time with other loved ones.  It may also mean looking at your list to see what items on the to-do list can be paused until January.  If you are able to prioritize the things that you truly love and value this month while reducing the burden of the things that you dread, the last month of the year will be much more filled with peace as you prepare to welcome in the next year.  


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