What tips would you give to other parents to help them survive over Christmas?
I know personally that we have had many difficult experiences in the past as it leads up to the festive period. Often, the best learning can be done when parents haven’t got it right the first time, but have learnt how to do it differently as a result. There may be times when all of the preparations have been put in place and yet still our children or young people struggle and shutdown as a result. That just happens and nobody is to blame.
As challenging as the festive period may be, there can be small adjustments that we can make in order to make life more manageable for our families (at least for a fraction of the time). To reduce conflict and make the time as harmonious as possible is a good enough goal as any to start with.
After all, our families are still with their specific needs; they can’t simply just disappear for one day of the year because it happens to be Christmas and as a society we have ‘joyous’ expectations placed upon us.
So I’ve created a universal Christmas Survival Guide using quick tips that I have been given and have found useful. These anonymous pearls of wisdom have come from a range of parenting trials and errors and have been compiled by numerous voices (for a detailed response this Facebook post will be useful). Here is an overarching summary for parents:
🌟Be flexible; this one has to go to the top of the list – without this main adjustment our families will inevitably struggle over the festive period 🌟
🌟Stagger activities – food, presents, social events and visitors are all demands so we should try to keep things as level and balanced as possible🌟
🌟Decorations can be overloading and often they can be up for a long time adding to the waiting time for a restless child. They can also be difficult for sensory reasons so some families opt to not decorate at all. Either way, do what words best for your individual family🌟
🌟Avoid the climax – you could use the option of giving presents early to reduce anxiety. It really is important to remember that the demand of waiting, coupled with the excitement of the Christmas hype, plus the intolerance to uncertainty of the surprises that lay ahead, may all send the child into shutdown. We have to question whether it is essential that the child waits till Christmas to open a gift if it is causing too much upset? A tip like creating an advent calendar so each day it gives an item of interest or a fidget/toy could help to break down the waiting period too🌟
🌟Have your own visual plan but be open to change – adjust your expectations to the tolerance of your child and how they are coping🌟
🌟Include rest days if you have a busy schedule ahead🌟
🌟Think outside of the box! Ideas such as wrapping presents in cellophane (to limit the stress element of ‘surprise’) are possible trigger relievers, but will also depend on what causes the most conflict for your child. Other suggestions such as having Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day so that there is less pressure to cook on the day and having something simple like pizza or finger food instead. Some parents choose to go away and avoid the commercialised experience and may create a much more simple version of Christmas🌟
🌟Ensure preparations are made to help the day run as smoothly as can be. It’s a good idea to put batteries in toys or build them in advance (if waiting is difficult for the child) and to also think of doing as much prior to the big day e.g. preparations for Christmas dinner etc to relieve as much stress as possible. Other ideas like ensuring a safe space where the child can retreat to is essential for their comfort🌟
🌟Keep normal routines where possible e.g. food, sleep, daily structures – try to retain some sense of ‘normality’ over the period so that the changes that need to happen are limited and therefore have more chance of success🌟
🌟What are the triggers? Suggestions like making your own crackers if the child cannot cope with unknown surprises (instead they could be filled with what the child likes) is just one example of adjusting the uncertainty of demands that might be placed upon the child. Allowing them to be part of the decision making process when it comes to surprises could also be supportive and help to reduce anxiety. The demand to be traditional at this time of year can hinder our judgements; think about those expectations and consider if they are high priority (a need or a risk). Is it necessary to sit at the table for Christmas dinner?🌟
🌟Brief families in advance – and stay true to your family strategy that works for you, try to not worry when family members expect you to do it differently. We need to have confidence in our own ability to know what works well for our kids🌟
🌟If it is an issue have Christmas at your own home so that visitors can follow the rules you put in place or it might be that not allowing anyone else in the family home is the best thing to do for your child🌟
🌟Don’t impose your own expectations onto your child or young person. Consider the child’s version of happiness may not be the same as yours; we should not try to enforce them to enjoy what we think they ‘should’ be enjoying. As parents we can often feel that they will miss out if they don’t experience the traditions we did at Christmas time, but they are our experiences rather than those of our young people🌟
🌟Be conscious of our own social media time or choose carefully what you look at – try to remember that it’s only a screenshot of what life might look like and not reality itself. It does not show the bad moments or even the many photographs taken previously to reach that ‘perfect’ shot🌟
🌟Avoid banning screen time for your children or youngsters, if they are feeling more content in a virtual world, there is probably a reason for that. Down time when festive times are highly arousing and sensory overloading is essential for survival🌟
🌟Take comfort in distractions – if our children were at school we would expect that they take comfort breaks or have playtime to unwind and we certainly would not be expecting a child with additional needs to cope with the level of surprises, demands or social experiences that we put upon them over the Christmas period🌟
🌟Exercise or try to get some fresh air if you can! This may not always be possible if you are alone and if it is difficult/unsafe to leave the house but any form of excercise you can do inside the house even may well help alleviate the feeling of being cooped up🌟
🌟In direct contrast to the last point, don’t put pressure on yourself if you can’t get out, staying at home might be in the best interests of your child🌟
🌟Avoid queues if going out and try to book in advance for any festive activities🌟
🌟Separating as a family is not a bad thing! It’s ok if one part of the family does one thing and others do something else – the expectation that all members will be doing the same activity is often ambitious. Sometimes we fear separating because we feel the need to all be enjoying the same thing when in reality this doesn’t always happen🌟
🌟Manage expectations when things don’t go to plan – try to use empathetic communication and understand the child’s point of view (regardless if this is something you agree with). Often their emotions are more heightened with so much going on and our role is to help bring calm and order once again. They may prefer to be part of the process in choosing presents to alleviate their uncertainty to surprises🌟
🌟Offer options rather than imposing more demands and de-personalise where the ‘no’ comes from (especially useful when discussing a present that may not be feasible but is something the child with additional needs is fixated upon). A tip could be to gift items around the interest rather than the item that is not feasible🌟
🌟Don’t take things personally when responses aren’t what you expect e.g a reaction towards a present – as these feelings often can’t be helped. It may also be difficult to consolidate the child when the present they wanted doesn’t arrive, but we have to try to take our own emotions out of the equasion – this is easier said than done!🌟
🌟Try to remember the adjustments you make all year round for your family with additional needs which are there for a reason. Try to prepare and expect that overloads may happen during this period and that it’s more about how you pick things up to continue on and that they shouldn’t determine whether Christmas is enjoyable or not. We need to focus on the special moments rather than expecting everything to be perfect🌟
🌟Being truthful – some families are open to their children from the offset that Santa does not deliver their presents. There is a feeling that it does more harm to lie to your child or it might be that the child is too anxious about the idea of a stranger entering their bedroom whilst they are asleep. Other kids may demand the truth. Go with your gut feeling as there is no manual to say how this should be done🌟
🌟Most importantly be kind to yourself🌟
🌟It’s ok to have your own version of a ‘special’ Christmas – there is no such thing as a perfect Christmas so find what works for you and your own unique family🌟
🌟Reward yourself for getting through it – whether this be a treat to look forward to or simply a deep breath in as you relish your success. Remember this is no easy feat and to survive this period, with our own family dynamics and needs, is an accomplishment in itself🌟
So, do you have any tips you would share with other parents? What has worked well for you over the Christmas period and what have you found didn’t work in the past?For a link to the most unusual present my daughter ever asked for (and how we managaged the situation), click here.