Everyone wants to have the perfect Christmas but does this really exist? Christmas is a time of coming together as families to celebrate all that is good in the world. Celebrations and the stress can start well before the big day, and things that seem a harmless bit of fun can turn into overwhelming tasks. Anyone who has ever tried to move an elf every day in December will understand what I mean.

Understand that Christmas can be a stressful time for children as well – Elves that move around the house and advent calenders are an exciting part of the Christmas countdown, but they are also a ticking time bomb of emotional responses just waiting to explode. For some children these can be the start of having lots of worrying questions running about their heads, like:

What will the Elf do whilst I am asleep? Have I been good enough for Santa to visit? What if I don’t get the gift I really want? How should I act if I don’t like my gifts?

Have conversations with your child to try and identify these common worries early.

Keep it real – Remind yourself that Facebook and other social media is everyone’s highlight reel. There may well be a photo of everyone sitting round the table eating a roast dinner but you won’t see the meals that were refused or the fights over peeling the potatoes. Why have cross words over a traditional Christmas dinner if your child would rather eat chicken nuggets? Christmas, after all, is about enjoying being together. Cook food that you know will be eaten.

Try to be predictable – Have a timetable displayed so children can see what will be happening. For example, which day is visiting family, which day are family or friends coming to the house, which day is the Christmas fair, when do the decorations go up and come down, when is back to school. The more predictable you can make the holiday, the less stressful it will be.

Plan ahead – If necessary remind family members that your child may become overwhelmed and need a little quiet time, they need to not take it personally. Try to have a pre-arranged safe zone that your child can retreat to if visiting someone else’s house. Maybe even have a safe phrase that they can say if they need help to calm down – this is good for older children who may not wish to talk about their feelings in front of others. You can pre-agree that if they come to you and ask for a drink of milk, for example, that you will give them a reason to come away from a situation safely before tempers fray.

Empathise and recognise the different emotions you are all feeling. Try to remember that children experience the same emotions and feelings as we do, but that they just have different triggers. This doesn’t mean that their emotions are not as valid, they just need help communicating these feelings.

Have a wonderful and relaxing Christmas doing what works for your own family. Remember, it’s not a competition. You are doing an amazing job.