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Parenting NI expert offer advice on how to have a happy family Christmas

It's supposed to be the happiest time of the year but for many families the stresses of Christmas can be immense. From dealing with that age old question of who is Santa to coping with rebellious teenagers, ex-partners and escalating debt during December, Jenny Lee asks Parenting NI Chief Executive Charlene Brooks for guidance on helping families have a happy Christmas

Christmas can be a stressful time of year, but with some simple planning families can have a magical Christmas

How should parents deal with explaining who Father Christmas is, while still keeping Christmas magical?

Father Christmas brings festive magic to households and many parents will not look forward to the time when their children start asking questions about Santa. Every child is different and parents will know their child best in how to approach this subject with them.

If your child starts asking you tricky questions about what other children are saying about Santa ask them what they think. If they are on the fence perhaps you could suggest "You don't need to worry about what others think – it's what you believe that is important. Maybe we should still write him a letter telling him what you would like."

Sometimes older children still believe in the tradition and you, as a parent think it is time that they know the truth. Again each parent knows their own child best – but if you do choose to tell them then make sure it is at a time and in a way that does not cause confusion or upset and discuss with them the importance of maintaining the tradition for younger children's benefit.

Christmas can still be kept magical even when your children are older. You can encourage them to create new traditions that they can look forward to, such as helping with the festive decorations, creating a Christmas wish list or Christmas movie nights.

If you are separated, how should you decide who buys presents and where the kids spend Christmas?

Parenting NI hear from a lot of separated parents about how difficult this time of year is for them. We would encourage parents who have separated to try and communicate with each other as far in advance as possible about arrangements. The most important thing is to put your children first, set hostilities aside and try to come to an arrangement that will be best for your children, which allows both sides of the family to spend some time with them where possible.

It can be easy to get drawn into trying to outdo each other when it comes to Christmas presents. However, trying to compete with the other parent isn't helpful and may have you spending more than you can afford. Where possible, work with your ex-partner on who is buying what or, if they are happy doing the shopping, contribute money towards gifts.

Unfortunately, if relations are poor between ex-partners it can mean that many parents miss out on seeing their children at all at Christmas. This can be very upsetting and isolating for those in that situation and we would encourage them to reach out for support from either family and friends or professional support services.

How can you manage expectations that Christmas and avoid debt?

Children's expectations are usually high at Christmas time, with all the toy adverts and talk with their friends about what they've asked Santa for. It can be difficult, but try not to get drawn into what others are spending and do what is right for your family.

Children often are very happy with a number of small gifts and books – it's adults who feel the need to over indulge them. Try to plan by writing a list of everything you need and setting a budget, shopping around and most importantly, try and stick to your budget.

Talk to your children about the value of things and explain that it's not all about what Santa brings. Christmas is a time to spend time together and make memories.

How do you teach children to be grateful for unwanted gifts, such as grandma's knitted jumper?

It's easy for children to be delighted with a new toy or latest gadget but when they tear the paper open and find a knitted jumper from granny it's often a different story.

Encourage your child to say thank you from a young age so they get into the habit of saying it whenever they are given anything. You may want to prompt them to be positive by saying something like “Oh isn't that lovely?” as they are opening presents.

Also, explain to them that when you thank someone you are showing appreciation for thinking of you and their time and effort in getting you something, no matter what the present is.

How do you encourage children to spend time away from screens this Christmas and join in some traditional family fun?

This is a difficult one, as many children may be getting some new technology for Christmas. Ask your children about a family agreement regarding technology at Christmas and involve them in making the rules that everyone will follow. Parents are just as guilty of spending too much time on their phones and gadgets at times, so it's important to lead by example.

Christmas is such a busy time of year it is tempting to hand children the iPad to keep them occupied for a while and give yourself some down time. Instead, why not try some traditional arts and crafts making cards, get the children involved in some Christmas baking or play some traditional board games together?

What is the best way to set boundaries for teenage children who want to party this Christmas?

All children need rules and limits as they help children manage their own behaviour and develop self-control. Teenagers will naturally try to push boundaries which is why negotiating rules and consequences with them is important. This means they are more likely to adhere to the rule and accept the consequences if rules are broken.

Rules should be exact, so there is no confusion over what is expected. They should be reasonable and fair, and consistent with other rules. Set fair but firm consequences for when rules are broken and include your teenager in what these will be.

How should parents take care of themselves this Christmas and ensure they too have a jolly time?

Self-care is incredibly important. The pressure to provide the ‘perfect' Christmas can lead to serious stress for parents. Parenting NI would encourage parents to be realistic and focus on making Christmas the best it can be for you. Try to keep things in perspective and be kind to yourself. Share the responsibilities and accept help with any of the preparations to help relieve any stress you may be feeling.

Christmas is often a time of over-indulgence, but remember to eat well and drink responsibly. Alcohol is a depressant and can heighten anxiety so it is worth being mindful of its impact on you during the festive period.

While parents will be busy trying to make sure their children are enjoying Christmas, remember that it is also a holiday for you. Try and relax as much as possible and enjoy spending time with your family.

:: Parenting NI offer a freephone helpline which parents can call for confidential support with any issue. Call 0808 8010 722.

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