Ahhhhh Christmas. A time for peace, harmony, and brotherly love. So, why do our children keep fighting?
Parents work so hard to make Christmas — and the weeks leading up to it — special. We buy tickets to breakfast with Santa. We spend time and money decorating the house. We shop till we drop to find the perfect gifts for each child. Is it too much to ask them to just get along and enjoy all we are doing?
To be sure, we need to remember that some conflict is normal. In fact, conflict is the price of intimacy. Whenever people try to build a relationship — their natural tendencies will, at some point, clash. The only people who don’t experience conflict people who are totally alone. So, we can take heart. The fact that our children are fighting means they are relating to each other. Maybe not well — but it’s a start.
At the same time, while some conflict is normal, ongoing strife between our children wrecks the Christmas experience. Worse, it can permanently damage their relationships — threatening peace for all the Christmases to come. How can we equip our children to work through their frustrations with each other and create real peace and enjoyment during this special time together?
First, recognize the challenge. Siblings who spend most of their days together develop a natural rapport and way of engaging. But, if siblings spend most of their days in separate day care rooms or separate classes at school, they are developing rapport with classmates — not each other. The Christmas break then throws them back together for days on end with not much in common. Parents can ease the transition by intentionally planning activities to bring the kids together. Though part of the attraction of Christmas break is the break from routine — loosely planned activities give a foundation for the kids to work together.
Create a focus for each day that pools the interests and skills of the kiddos. One day could be baking Christmas cookies while the next might focus on crafts. Another might involve heading to the park for a hike while another might be organizing the kids to help a neighbor with Christmas lights. Organizing kids around an activity means they don’t have to manufacture some false connection just because they are home together. They can genuinely join together to achieve a fun goal. As they do, they build authentic connection to each other.
Next, tend to their needs. Children misbehave most often when they are tired, hungry, or out of their routine. Christmas break often features all three. Younger children especially struggle with the late night Christmas programs, the rounds of visits to neighbors and friends, and the different foods. If Christmas plans take families out of town, for days or weeks, we need to find a way to establish some sort of routine — even in a different place. When we schedule regular naps, maintain a stash of favorite snacks, and skip a few extra activities to get the kids to bed on time — cranky kids become more cooperative. Even if the holiday schedule centers on home, implement a mandatory “quiet hour.” Everyone gets a break from interacting with each other as they rest, read, or play a quiet game alone. Children (and parents) emerge refreshed and ready to enjoy each other.
Finally, establish some ground-rules for the break. Our children can pick up rude, selfish behavior without us realizing it until we’re thrown together for days on end. If children begin name-calling, grabbing toys, or ordering others around — address them directly and concretely. You could have a family meeting to point out how the behaviors are making life hard for everyone and to clearly state the expectations for how to treat each other. Outline consequences if the rules aren’t followed and enforce them — every time. As parents set the example of following the rules, we create an atmosphere of honor and nurture between family members. Our children learn how to treat the rest of the world well by practicing on each other. Christmas time becomes truly a time of peace and harmony in our home.