However much you enjoy Christmas, it always involves plenty of effort. So you might as well share it round as much as you can, and get the kids to muck in. It helps you, it makes them feel more involved, and being useful is good for them too. So what can they do to help? That will depend on their age among other things, so here are some ideas for different stages.
At this age, any help is likely to require as much effort as it saves, but it sets a useful precedent for future years. Toddlers can help stir the cake or pudding if you make your own, or decorate the tree, or hand round gifts. And why not get them to help sort out old toys for the charity shop, to clear space for the new ones they’re hoping for? To give them a sense of responsibility, put them in charge of something that won’t matter if they forget, or that can’t go wrong – making the dog feel special, or putting all the crumpled wrapping paper in a rubbish bag.
Primary age children will enjoy the responsibility of seeing a task through in its entirety. So put them in charge of the table – laying it, decorating it, putting out the crackers or lighting the candles (under supervision). Or give them charge of the tree, from "supervising" the decoration, and rehanging any fallen baubles, to distributing the gifts underneath it when the time comes. They can put together handmade Christmas cards too – for example a green hand print in poster paint can be a tree with a glitter star on top. They can get a production line going.
By this age your child is much more likely to play ball if they’ve bought into the decision. So you could think through several options and let them pick how they contribute. Don’t forget to include the regular household tasks that still have to happen through the festive period, such as feeding and exercising the dog, or running a vacuum cleaner round. And again, a whole responsibility from start to finish is likely to appeal. If money is tight, this age group can help put together home-made hampers from the whole family, from bakes to bath bombs, photos to dog walking vouchers, all made to look lovely in a paper carrier bag covered in glitter or painted stars.
A co-operative teenager can really make your life a whole load easier. So ask them what they’d like to take charge of. They could take over responsibility for a whole meal – if not on the big day, then another day when you have visitors. They’ll feel great for getting all the credit, and you’ll get a day off. Keeping the house tidy is another useful function (including dealing with rubbish and recycling). The more useful they feel, the better their self-esteem. There’s a Christmas gift you can give a child of any age for free.
Richard Templar is the author of the global best-selling Rules of Life and Rules of Parenting, published by Pearson .