Coping with Christmas

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xmas-maisie-milo Coping with Christmas!

The 1st of December is here and Christmas is upon us again. It seems that the hype around Christmas starts earlier and earlier every year. The supermarkets started putting Christmas goods on the shelves after the summer holidays this year!

Christmas is a stressful time for lots of people for various different reasons. The Samaritans see a 25% increase in calls to their support lines over the Christmas period.

Most of us have an image of what our perfect family Christmas would look like; It might be full of laughter and gifts, or it might be something more low key, with carols and cuddles. I bet it doesn’t involve stress and distress! The reality is that for many families Christmas is a very stressful time.

Here are our top 10 tips for surviving Christmas to help you cope.


As Christmas approaches, you can highlight the Christmas period on your family/ children’s calendar. Liaise with school so you can both use the same terminology and put the same strategies in place at the same time to prepare your child.

You can start to talk about Christmas time and what this means. You could produce a booklet with photographs of previous Christmases your child has enjoyed and talk about those times.

Use the advent calendar to help your child be aware of upcoming events and prepare them for daily changes. Or make your own advent calendar together you could use pictures of events or trips and countdown to key events.

Returning home to find a tree with flashing lights could be a bit of a shock. You could involve your child in changes to the house, e.g. take them shopping for decorations, let them handle decorations, let them see decorations being hung up, or let them help putting them up.

Consider decorating gradually, e.g. you could put the Christmas tree in position, decorate it the next day, and then put up other decorations even later. Keep things that might overload them away from communal areas, e.g. flashing Christmas lights could go in bedrooms rather than the living room.

Know your limits

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the preparation for Christmas and all the parties and school events.

Finding a coping mechanism and be realistic about what your family can deal with. Find the strength to say no to social invitations that you know will be stressful for you and your child.


Many children with additional needs have a strong need for routine. Try to keep the daily schedule the same as far as possible, including on Christmas Day. You could incorporate a Christmas activity that they enjoy into their daily schedule, e.g. opening the advent calendar, or switching on the tree lights

Be happy with your own perfect

We have all attempted it! The tree must look perfect, we must eat the perfect Christmas dinner, and all the gifts must be wrapped perfectly.

Don’t be afraid to make your own version of Christmas and incorporate all the things your family enjoy.  Unique is good.   Make your own Christmas perfect for you.

Christmas Free Time

You could pencil in some Christmas free time over the festive period. It gives everyone a break from the festivities. This could also be helpful if you observe your child’s anxiety levels rising, you can make any adaptions to the rest of the day.

Give them quiet time with a favourite activity in a Christmas-free zone at key moments that may be stressful, such as when other people are opening their presents.

Christmas Day

Plan the day together as a family so everyone knows what will be happening and are comfortable.

Some children find receiving Christmas presents overwhelming and confusing. If your child finds receiving gifts overwhelming set a limit on the number of presents your child receives, e.g. one from mum and dad and one from grandparents – other family members could perhaps give money.

You might consider leaving their gifts unwrapped or, try giving your child their presents over the whole Christmas period instead of all in one go. You could introduce an activity symbol to their schedule each day when they play with a new toy.

Father Christmas

Lots of children find Father Christmas scary. For a child who takes things very literally the thought of a jolly man in a red suit coming into their home, when everyone is asleep is quite frightening. If you are attending a Christmas event prepare your child for the fact that they might see a man in a big red suit, show your child a photograph of a man in a Santa suit so they know what to expect.

Reward yourself

You definitely need to reward yourself. Whether it is a caramel latte and 5 minutes with a magazine, a swim, a walk or snuggles with loved ones. Whatever you choose, cherish the moment and let everything else wait…..for a while!

Stay Calm

Easier said than done I know. But getting worked up and stressed will not make things easier. If you have time limits to adhere to, prioritise the important things first. Think, if it doesn’t get done is it really the end of the world?

Take a deep breath and enjoy yourself

It is Christmas, just another day of the year. Don’t take it too seriously. Celebrate it in whatever way makes it easiest for you and your family.

Remember it is your family Christmas, enjoy yourself and don’t let other peoples idea of what you should be doing influence the day – it  is just their opinion.

You are the parent or carer of a child with SEND, you’re already strong and doing a brilliant job– believe it!

Learn more about:




National Autistic Society;

Special needs Jungle;