Coping with Christmas

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This time of year can be tricky for families with a child or young person with additional needs.  Christmas brings heightened excitement, changes to routine and the possibility of sensory overload. Here are some tips for coping with the festive season:

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Changes to routine can be a challenge for children with additional needs. Planning ahead can help to make things run more smoothly.

Talk about Christmas with your child early and find out what they are looking forward to and what worries they might have. You could show them photos of the previous year’s Christmas. Think about using visual supports such as a calendar to prepare your child and count down to events or activities.

Where possible aim to keep your child’s daily routine the same. You could introduce Christmas activities such as opening the advent calendar into the daily schedule and use a visual timetable to support this. Don’t feel pressure to introduce these activities if they may upset your child. Do what works for your family.

Plan for the whole festive break; discuss with your child any visitors or visits to family and friends in advance. Consider spreading visits out over the festive period to avoid overwhelming your child and share your plans with family and friends and ask them for support.  

Liaise with your child’s school or setting over supporting your child through the festive period. Try to ensure that you are all using the same approach and strategies.

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Plan around any sensory issues that could cause your child distress. If it is likely to be noisy consider using ear defenders or ensure there is a quiet space for your child to retreat to if it gets too much.

Plan and discuss food in advance. Where possible keep food and meal times the same. Prepare your child for any changes to cutlery or table set up in advance.

Do what is right for your family, don’t feel pressure to serve up the ‘perfect’ Christmas dinner if your child would prefer something else.   

Decorations can contribute to sensory overload for some children, plan the most suitable decorations for your family. Involve your child in the decoration process and choosing the decorations where appropriate. Consider decorating gradually and aim to create Christmas-free areas.

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Presents can be a source of anxiety; from the excitement, the wrapping to the expectation from others to respond in a certain way.

Consider how best to wrap (or not) your child’s presents. If wrapping paper could cause a sensory issue perhaps a gift bag may be the best solution? If the surprise of wrapped presents could be too much for them maybe a clear wrapping so that the child can still take part in unwrapping the gift but doesn’t have the anxiety of worrying about what’s inside?  Share your plans with family and friends so that they can do the same.

If too many presents could be overwhelming, consider setting a limit or staggering presents over the festive period.

In the run up to Christmas think about how you introduce the idea of Father Christmas. This can be confusing for children so try to find a way that they understand; the use of pictures or stories might help. The concept of Father Christmas’s ‘naughty list’ can cause unnecessary anxiety or stress for some children so it might be best to avoid this idea.

Finally, discuss all your plans with any family or friends that you might be spending the festive season with and ask for their help and support to ensure the smooth running of the Christmas period. Try not to put pressure on yourself for everything to be ‘perfect’ and if things don’t go to plan stay calm and try a different approach.