We often think about Christmas as a fantastic time to be a child – with the excitement of presents from Father Christmas, opening the latest door on the advent calendar and the time off school.

But for some children who are facing a difficult time at home due to their family situation, the idea of the perfect festive period may not be achievable.

Our member Joanna North says there are ways of supporting children and young people to help them find positives and have their own special Christmas.

And the first thing is to try to stop building up the idea of a ‘perfect Christmas’.

Manage expectations

“It’s important to build a healthy narrative about Christmas,” she says, “Christmas isn’t always perfect. It’s not like the adverts on television.

“We need to get the emotion right for children. A lot of this is about how we manage expectations and how we deal with the idealisation of the Christmas period.”

Opportunity to talk

Joanna, a psychotherapist who works with children and families, says it’s important to give children the chance to talk about what’s going on with them.

“They may not raise these issues, so it’s good to give them an opportunity to talk and help them to get started voicing their thoughts and feelings.

Their own story

“At Christmas time we remember the Christmas story. We all have own personal story too. It can help children to think about their own story.

“If someone is missing from the family this year, if a parent has died, is far away, or is very ill; don’t be afraid to acknowledge this and to support the child to think of this. Address it. Talk about it. If there is someone missing from the family, have a positive way of thinking about them.

“Just don’t fill that gap with material possessions. Receiving presents is not going to be a substitute for what is missing.”

Positive acts

Joanna, who has written a book called Mind Kind – Your Child’s Mental Health, suggests positive acts such as creating cards, lighting a candle, or making crafts to help remember a parent and relative who will not be with them this Christmas.

 And while she says the materialism can be an issue at Christmas, the act of giving presents can be helpful.

“Giving gifts can have a positive effect on emotions. It can be really important and healing.”

To find a counsellor or psychotherapist who specialises in working with children and young people, visit our Therapist directory.