Here’s How to Be Your Child’s Most Trusted Ally This Christmas

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“Have you been a good boy this year? Santa and his elves are watching!” asks the shop assistant as she smiles at my four-year-old son.

“All kids are good, aren’t they?” I reply, while quickly changing the topic of conversation.

Am I overly sensitive?

She didn’t really mean any harm, did she?

After all, there are Christmas carols written about naughty and nice children. About not crying and not pouting.

It’s all part of the Christmas contract; kids behave well and then they’re rewarded by a jolly old man in a red suit who brings them gifts in direct proportion to their level of cooperation throughout the year.

Good kid = lots of gifts. Bad kid = not so many.

It’s a fair deal, isn’t it? No, it’s not.

Because there is no such thing as naughty and nice, just as there is no such thing as good or bad behaviour.

These festive habits that we repeat generation after generation, without conscious thought, are nothing more than coercive techniques used to control children. They induce fear and anxiety. No matter how they’re sugar-coated, they promote bullying, threats and rewards. And they discriminate against children while leveraging the magic of Christmas.

So here are a handful of choices we can make this year to advocate for our children’s needs, while turning the tides of childism and fostering respect towards all family members, no matter their age.

1. LET’S KNOCK THE ELF OFF HIS SHELF

The Elf on the Shelf is pure marketing genius. Sold to parents as a little helper who reports back to Santa on our children’s naughty and nice deeds, it may seem harmless enough.

But it represents manipulation – plain and simple.

This odd little elf is part of a growing number of scare tactics used to prey on children’s natural desire to trust and believe in the magic of Christmas. From phone numbers parents can call to report bad behaviour, to Santa Webcams and online surveys to assess your child’s naughty or nice ranking, I find it somewhat sickening to see the lengths adults believe they have the right to stoop to in order to temporarily manipulate children’s behaviour.

When we introduce a silent bully into our homes, into our children’s safe space, we violate their trust.

So, let’s knock the naughty elf of his shelf this year. And there is a positive alternative. I recently discovered The Kindness Elves, whose mission is to emphasise kindness, sharing and gratitude. From baking cakes to give to neighbours to filling a box with groceries to give to the local food bank, the Kindness Elves give children (and parents) practical ideas to be kind in the lead up to Christmas.

And I’d love to invite you to join my Simplifying Christmas Pinterest Board where I am sharing articles with practical tips on simplifying the holidays, including printable Kindness Advent Calendars.

There is no better Christmas gift than connection. Join my FREE 5-Day Parenting Through Connection eCourse to Learn More!

2. LET’S REMOVE ‘NAUGHTY’ AND ‘NICE FROM OUR VOCABULARY

When we use words like naughty and nice, we’re talking about behaviour. Most conventional discipline techniques are simply behaviour modification tools that don’t work because they fail to identify the real problem; attempting to address symptoms but refusing to address the cause.

Our kids are NOT their behaviour and all behaviour is communication.

When we label or stereotype kids based on their behaviour we miss the point of parenting, shortchanging them and ourselves, because we’re unable to recognise what it is they really need.

Big emotions can be scary for kids; they rely on us to guide them as they develop their emotional intelligence. When our kids are melting down, that is when we earn our parenting stripes, by being the calm in their storm and offering our universal acceptance.

It can be hard to do, especially when we’re under the spotlight with extended family who may view the world differently than we do. But, when we know better, we’re compelled to do better.

As Lucy Grogan recently said, “there are no cool parents or mean parents, there are just parents who understand how the brain works and those that don’t, yet.” So, don’t worry about convincing others, but also don’t compromise on your conscious and considered parenting choices just to satisfy someone else’s agenda.

3. LET’S END FORCED AFFECTION

For most of us, Christmas means spending time with extended family and friends, which can be wonderful, but the pressure is inevitably put on children to offer and receive affection. Suggesting our children should “give Aunty a kiss” or “Grandpa a hug” violates their right to bodily autonomy.

Nobody, except our children, has the right to ask, demand or give affection without their express permission.

If we fall into the trap of expecting children to willingly offer affection it sends a clear message that other people have the right to decide about their bodies. It’s a dangerous precedent to set and it’s completely disrespectful.

Rather than prompting children to give affection, we can suggest that adults offer affection instead. If your child has a strong connection with the person offering affection, chances are they’ll open their arms enthusiastically for a big hug.

But if they don’t, adults MUST respect a child’s decision without question and without labelling your child as “shy” or innocently threatening to “get my hug before you go” while sneaking in a disrespectful tickle. Explaining this to family and friends beforehand will help adjust their expectations, protect their feelings and avoid potential disappointment. And as adults ourselves, we can always step in and offer Grandma affection instead.

Be your child’s advocate – their ability to protect their bodily autonomy is a life skill that is infinitely more important than a distant relative missing out on a hug and your family should fully support that.

4. LET’S BE MINDFUL OF HOW SANTA BEHAVES

At this time of year, as a positive parent, I often find myself in a tug of war between wanting to give my son the magic of Santa and being honest.

I fully respect and appreciate all the reasons many parents choose not to do Santa. If you are considering whether or not Santa is for you, check out this wonderful post, by my friend Rachel about why her family chooses not to do Santa.

For us, for the moment, we choose to do Santa. And the one question I always ask myself is, when my son finds out who Santa really is, will I be proud of the choices I made?

So, like our love, Santa is unconditional. He brings gifts no matter what. They don’t need to be earned, there are no strings attached and they can’t be taken away.

Our Santa is also minimalist – he’s a bonus, rather than the main event, because we want to foster giving as well as receiving, so most gifts are from family. We don’t visit shopping mall Santas – sitting on a stranger’s lap kinda freaked me out as a child, so we just don’t go there.

I don’t know how long we’ll do Santa for but when our son eventually asks if Santa is real, we won’t prolong the Christmas charade. (He’s already explained to me the tooth fairy isn’t real, so it may not be too far away!)

5. LET’S REMEMBER IT IS NOT UP TO CHILDREN TO MEET THE EMOTIONAL NEEDS OF ADULTS

Emotions can run high at Christmas (and I’m talking about the adults here). From unmet expectations to historical family feuds and the futile pursuit of perfection, it’s the time of year that can bring out the best and worst in our loved ones. Yet somehow, we seem to expect more of children than we do of adults.

We expect seamless manners, endless smiles and unconditional gratitude.

But, we need to see Christmas, and all that comes with it through the eyes of our children. It can be overwhelming enough for us, and we have 30, 40 or 60 years of Christmas experiences under our belts.

At this time, more than ever, we need to remember, and highlight to our extended families, that is it NOT up to a child to meet the emotional needs of an adult. It is the other way around.

So, let’s be our children’s guides and help them navigate through the complexities of the holidays. Let’s be our children’s’ advocates and extend grace rather than shame when they forget to say their fifty fifth thank you for the day and instead, say it for them.

Let’s be realistic and expect meltdowns so that we can proactively build in quiet moments that fuel their emotional and physical tanks. Let’s stop excluding kids based on age and instead foster inclusion. Let’s allow our kids to bring out the childlike wonder in all of us, as they remind us that life is always better when we don’t take ourselves so seriously.

And finally, let’s let our kids be little, and for one magical day of the year, prioritise children’s needs over the desires of adults.

There is no better Christmas gift than connection. Join my FREE 5-Day Parenting Through Connection eCourse to Learn More!

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COMMENTS
  • December 15, 2017
    Claire

    This is so helpful to read at this time of year- insightful and encouraging article as always, thank you

  • December 17, 2017

    I needed this last night when my daughter was breaking down and throwing a tantrum. I lost it right along with her which didn’t help the situation. Today I felt upset at both her and myself. I am afraid I fall on the side of not understanding children’s brains. And I am afraid it is hammering a wedge between my daughter and I.

  • December 18, 2017
    antoine

    Thank you for this wonderful article which truly resonates for me and my family. I wish you a great holiday season and lots of love.

    • December 18, 2017
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you so much and you too Antoine – Merry Christmas!

  • December 19, 2017

    Yes! This really resonates with what we’ve been talking about on our blog. Keeping Christmas simple and not just getting sucked into the ethos of naughty vs nice. Beautifully written.

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