CHRISTMAS is coming - and plenty of us, whether adults or children, will be feeling the weight of expectation.

But the run-up to Christmas, and the festive season itself, does not need to be stressful, and, with a little preparation and pauses for thought along the way, they can be memorable for the right reasons.

Gwent Community Psychology - a specialist team at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board - has the above aim in mind, and has compiled useful information to help parents manage children's expectations, and help themselves deliver the ultimate present of a calmer, happier Christmas.

The team, based at the St Cadoc's Hospital site in Caerleon, works with communities across Gwent to support emotional wellbeing and resilience in children and young people.

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Team member Victoria Jones, systemic psychotherapist and community psychology lead for Torfaen, said it is important to support families to think about Christmas from an emotional wellbeing point of view.

"What people remember about Christmas is feelings. It is all too easy to focus on the economics, without thinking about those feelings in children and adults," she said. "It can be an extremely demanding time, people feel pressure to make sure they get the presents children want, but for some it is difficult or impossible."

Among the ideas the team is promoting is that of an advent calendar of family conversations, for instance in the form of a daily note that goes with the calendar, to stimulate children and parents to talk and think about how Christmas makes them feel, how they see other people's experiences of the festive season, what their expectations are, and how to manage them.

"It's about getting people to talk about feelings, memories of Christmas, helping people support children before, during and after Christmas, and for parents, how to look after themselves," said Ms Jones.

"It's important to make it a family occasion as much as possible, and to share the load, for instance by giving everyone a job, be it making sure everyone keeps hydrated, or being responsible for recycling."

The Gwent Community Psychology team will be dispensing handy tips for how to cope at Christmas at their stand at the Thrifty Torfaen Christmas Fayre tomorrow at the Congress Theatre in Cwmbran, from 10am-3pm.

But for those who cannot get to the event, below is some information from the team to help make Christmas a positive and memorable experience:

Before Christmas

Set realistic expectations for you and your child:

No Christmas, Eid, or or other holiday celebration is perfect. If your children's wish list is outside your budget, talk to them about realistic expectations and remind them the holiday is not about expensive gifts.

Help your child contain their excitement

Using an advent calendar or, if they are small, a 'sleeps to Christmas' countdown is a great way to help children learn about anticipation and time. The build-up to Christmas starts in shops right after Hallowe'en these days and we would all find it hard to stay excited for weeks and months on end, especially if we had not learned how to use a calendar.

Don't overdo the 'Father Christmas only comes to good boys and girls' message

If children do not get things, it is not because of them or how they have been - it is just because Santa is having a hard year.

Work out what their number one thing is, and what is special about that to them

Is it the colour that makes it special, the softness, the sound? Maybe you cannot get what they really want but if you unpack why they really want it, you can get the next best thing (that is sometimes actually a little bit better for less money).

Try to find presents that show you have thought of them as a unique person

Everyone wants to feel as though they are known and thought about as an individual, and sometimes the smallest, well thought out and personal gift can do this much more brilliantly than a giant, expensive one.

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Be sensitive about your child's understanding of Christmas myths and legends

Different people have different ideas about who should understand what and when at Christmas. Make sure the adults around your child are not assuming what they do or do not know about key figures at Christmas.

Be honest

At some point your child will ask you the really difficult question all parents get asked around this time of year about what (or who) is really real at Christmas. This is a question where there is no going back. Your child may remember your answer and how you gave it for a long time. Often if they are asking, they have a big hunch themselves already. It is worth asking them:

  • What would you really like the answer to be? Shall we go with that?
  • Are you sure you really want to know the answer to that question now, or would you like to wait for another Christmas?
  • If I tell you the answer, then you will be part of a great team of magic secret keepers - are you sure you want to be on the team?

Have a conversation with extended family, visiting relatives and friends, to make sure everyone is on the same page and there are no nasty surprises.

On Christmas Day

Manage your own expectations

As grown-ups, we need to manage our own hopes and expectations to make sure we are not too upset if we do not get a response we hoped for. It is impossible for anyone to be happy all the time. When things go wrong, it is an amazing chance to show your children how to be resilient. It also makes great family stories for future Christmas gatherings. Support other adults in your child's life to manage their expectations too. Feeling as though you have to be grateful and happy all day sounds like a recipe for a lot of stressed children.

Think about the gift unwrapping process

Is it a free-for-all before dawn, or a stage-managed hand-out? Is everything over and done in half an hour? Might doing stockings in the morning and presents under the tree after dinner stretch out the enjoyment and make your painstakingly wrapped presents last just a little bit longer? What is the best way to open presents to support your child to manage their energy and excitement throughout the day?

Help your child identify and name their feelings

This is one of the best gifts parents can give their children as they grow up.

Remind them that Santa's presents do not reflect how good or bad they have been, or how much they are loved

Christmas is about time together, and small treats.

Do not take it personally

This is a day that parents often really stretch themselves for, and then Santa comes in and takes all the credit. Make sure you have a back-up team who will tell you how amazing you are and what a great job you have done. Most of all, take a moment to stop and tell yourself.

Be proactive

If you are worried about possible difficult conversations or clashes at family get-togethers, such as Christmas, remember - these events are about bringing people together, not driving them apart. Focus on good memories and what you and everyone have in common, the thing that has brought you all together. Plan activities that foster fun and laughter, such as playing a family game, or looking through old photo albums.

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Safe and secure

Children can only thrive when they feel safe and secure. The challenge is to make sure home, at Christmas and throughout the year, feels a safe and nurturing place where children feel they belong and are loved. This means putting on hold the burning issue you know might lead to a giant row, noticing and managing our own feelings as a grown-up, and making sure the celebrations do not have a negative effect on children, for example by not over-indulging and avoiding a hangover.

After Christmas

Follow up on any 'Christmas secret' conversations you had

How do they feel about it now? How cool, or difficult, is it being in the 'magic secret club'?

Treat yourself

You got through another Christmas. It is time to have rest and congratulate yourself.

Reflect

What did you learn this year that you will put in place next year?