Overstimulation at Christmas

Kids whinging and screaming, parents frazzled with huge lists, parking full, Christmas songs blaring, people shoving past each other, long queues. We all know the feeling, especially around Christmas. And we are adults. Imagine what it feels like for kids.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, cut yourself some slack.

I will never forget the afternoon of Christmas Eve 2020. My daughter and I were watching ‘Mamma Mia’ after returning from the Post Office to have new passport photos taken. No, we were not planning a trip, but our passports expired mid-January, and it seemed like a great thing to do on Christmas Eve. For once, the Post Office was empty of people as it is relatively useless posting presents on Christmas Eve. We timed it right. What we didn’t time right was the only place to park was Woolworths Carpark. My daughter was on her Learner’s and navigated the car park exceptionally well, managing to snag the last empty carpark. Exiting the car park looked like a nightmare as one of the ways out had cars gridlocked. We chose the only other route and managed to escape quickly.

Why did we choose to get passport photos taken on Christmas Eve? Because we were all ready for Christmas Day. Our son’s birthday is on the 23rd, and we try to have everything prepared for his birthday, so the next few days are relatively easy and enjoyable.

I’m over getting stressed at Christmas.

When I am stressed, it filters down to everyone else in the family, and they pick up on my atmosphere and become stressed – not a pretty picture.

Shopping for a phone several days before with my son as he turned 15 and was finally able to get a mobile phone (family rules), he commented that he doesn’t like shopping. When I explored this with him and asked a few questions, I found out why he doesn’t enjoy shopping. It is the noise, the crowds, the visual overstimulation, bright lights, and the smells. Quite normal for an introvert and an HSP (highly sensitive person).

Thus, our aim at this time of year is fun, peace and joy. We watch movies, chat, snack, play games and enjoy spending time with friends. We try to keep to routines (even with teenagers) and relatively early nights.

We now choose peace and ease.

This year has its unique challenges as hubby is having major eye surgery on the 21st December. This means that I need to be prepared early. Plus it definitely needs to be restful for hubby over that time as he is required to rest.

Reflecting on the times when our kids have been overstimulated on Christmas Day and other exciting party days makes me glad we have changed our family’s habits. One of the worst aspects of overstimulated children was trying to calm them down and get them to sleep. Another aspect was their behaviour the following day.

When our son was about 2 ½ years old, he had numerous hospital emergency trips and food allergies and intolerances. I had to keep a strict food/drink/behaviour/breathing chart of everything he consumed and his behaviour and respiratory issues so that the dietitian and myself could determine which foods were negatively impacting him. I discovered that the food usually affected him 48 hours later, not the following day as we had expected. This helped me in the ‘disciplining’ of him two days after an event when we realised it was mainly due to food consumed prior than naughty behaviour.

Several strategies we used to help him during those years when he would act out negatively were:

  1. To have prepared beforehand. There are two aspects to this – to realise that we would have consequences from the food we had allowed him to consume full of sugar and preservatives, and to have prepared healthy food to substitute so that he didn’t experience such a great ‘high’. Drinking water instead of sugary drinks helps reduce some sugar and preservatives. Realising what you may face helps when you do encounter it. Similar to when your baby/toddler doesn’t sleep well during the day, and you go, “Yippee, they’ll get to sleep earlier tonight”. Wrong – they get overtired, which is much more challenging, and it takes longer to get them to sleep.
  2. Another aspect of preparing beforehand is by looking at time management. If you are getting stressed with the fullness of what you need to achieve and have no time for rest on a busy day, then it is also likely your child will suffer too from feeling that. Can you delete an activity? Is every activity necessary? Map the rhythm of your schedule and determine what can be deleted from your life. Be proactive, and don’t cram too much into one day. Flexibility is the key, especially if a family member has trouble adjusting to transitions and change.
  3. Communicate expectations and schedule beforehand. People, especially children, find it easier to know what is expected of them and what is coming up. Too many surprises and changes can be overwhelming. With young children, consider creating a visual chart. Our teenagers still love knowing what the plans and expectations are. Ease and acceptance then flow.
  4. When your child is overstimulated, a bath with Epsom salts in it works wonders. My doctor recommended this as an easy way to calm children down.
  5. If you can get to the beach, a walk/swim in saltwater also helps calm and release toxins from the body.
  6. Get the kids and yourself out exercising, running, and burning off the sugar. My doctor used to take her children hiking that evening after a day full of overstimulation to help destress them. Likewise, some time in nature can also help some children to destress.
  7. Under stimulate the environment at home during that time. Turn off the television, reduce the music and sound level, dim the lights, and go for a quieter, less stimulating environment, even for an hour.
  8. Sit/lie with your child in bed and read to them in a quiet environment.
  9. When you arise the following day(s), set the atmosphere for the home. You, as the parent, set the atmosphere. Don’t allow an overstimulated child to set the atmosphere. Take charge in the spiritual arena. Choose joy and peace. Declare the presence of the spirit of joy and peace and model it. Speak calmly. Do not allow yourself to become fired up or overstimulated and add negatively to the atmosphere. Play quiet worship music to aid the atmosphere.
  10. Plan in the ‘down’ or rest times during stressful times like Christmas and immediately afterwards. Allow chill time.
  11. When our son was overstimulated and needed to sleep, calling forth his spirit and blessing his spirit worked wonders. He also realised the benefit and would often ask for it, especially at those times. Those nights I would spend extra time sitting beside him in bed speaking blessing into his spirit. An example is “Spirit of (your child’s name); I call you forth and bless you with peace. I bless you with getting to sleep soon and having a great sleep. I bless you with knowing that you are fully accepted and loved. With knowing who you are and whose you are. I bless you with being a man after God’s own heart. I bless you with being strong and a warrior. I bless you with knowing that before the world began, God created you and desired you to be in our family. I bless you with having big dreams and seeing them come to fruition, with being a go-getter in the spiritual and physical. I bless you with favour. (Your child’s name) body and soul, I give you permission to go to sleep now and have a deep, restful, re-energising sleep, and (your child’s name) spirit I give you permission to have fun with the Holy Spirit tonight and enjoy this time. I bless you with knowing that mum and dad and (siblings) love you and fully accept you. I bless you with knowing that God fully loves and accepts you and always walking in that.”
  12. Explore the motivation behind your scheduling and busy time. Have you created an idol out of Christmas or an idol out of extended family Christmas get-togethers that leaves your immediate family depleted? Are you trying to meet unfilled needs or expectations by creating the perfect Christmas? Can you enjoy a slower pace being together with less emphasis on food, décor, presents?
  13. Remember – if you are stressed or under pressure as an adult, the emotions are usually magnified in your children. Plus, they pick up on your emotions. Whatever you are inputting into the atmosphere, expect your children to mirror. Christmas can be a highly emotional time, especially as we are usually around people we may not see very often or those with whom relationships are strained. I encourage you to re-assess how you spend Christmas and with whom.

Enjoy this Christmas time. Hopefully you can take things slower and enjoy special moments as a family.