Christmas is a season in which we look forward to all year around. We get a sense of excitement for the promise of celebration with family; which I think we can all agree is something we anticipate more than ever during these difficult economic times.
And, as much as the season of Christmas is exciting, it can be overwhelming to children, whoever they are, as well as possibly bring about sensory overload in children with Autism or ADHD. The bright lights, noise, different schedules are just some of the ways it can become overwhelming.
Ahead of Christmas, you might be wondering as a parent; how exactly can I help my children from becoming overwhelmed with Christmas. Well, we hope to help you with this by bringing together valuable tips you can use throughout the festive season:
- Plan Ahead & Use Visual Timetables. Christmas in any capacity requires planning, but planning activities for your child may require extra thought; for example, you might be thinking how my child would react to a certain Christmas activity, and how could I best help them to prevent sensory overload when they are there. At the end of the day, you know your child best, so plan to what works for you and your child. Once you have made your Christmas plans, it is worth creating a visual timetable. Visual Timetables are a good and valuable tool to use in everyday life let alone at Christmas, as they prompt and guide the day ahead for your child. Any planned Christmas activities, (for example, you may be taking your child to see Santa or maybe you are going to a family members house for a Christmas Party), would be good to include within a visual timetable. Visual timetables can be quick, cheap, and easy to produce. You can use simple pictures online which show a child what activity they are going to be doing and simply print and place on the wall with the rest of the day’s activities. Or you could even get some paper and colouring pencils to create your own from scratch; it’s up to you!
- Choose the best time for your child: When considering the previous tip, it is also important to consider the time of day in which you plan an activity. As we mentioned previously you know your child best. You may think that morning activities are best for your child as at this time of day, as they are more energised and fresher for that particular day. Or, for your child, a different time in the day may be better for them as they may not be a morning person. They be more motivated and alert to do an activity at another time of day.
- Pack a ‘toolkit’ bag for your child: Having the right tools when you are out and about for your child is important. One set of things you may pack in the bag are calming tools, such as headphones, fidget toys, a weighted blanket, a favourite toy, or anything else that may help with when your child is struggling with too much sensory input. It may even be worth packing additional clothing in case your child needs to change into something more comfortable during a party/event, as Christmas clothing such as Christmas Jumpers, can be made of fabrics that are not comfy for that child. And if your child likes a particular type of food, it may be worth packing a lunchbox with their preferred foods which they can enjoy at a family party.
- Consider Crowds, Seeing Santa, and Restaurant Seating: Christmas is an exciting time for a lot of people, and it does mean that more people are out at the shops, eating out or going to see Santa Claus. This can lead to crowds of people especially at certain times of day. When it comes to shopping, to best avoid the busiest times, consider ringing the shop you are visiting and asking what their quieter times are. Some major UK supermarkets actually offer ‘Quiet Hours’, which are specifically designed for people with invisible conditions; so, it is worth checking out. It is also worth doing this if you are planning to take your child to see Santa at a Santa’s Grotto. Consider ringing the organisers and ask when the quieter times are for seeing Santa so you can take your child and family along to enjoy that experience in a calmer environment. Sometimes some Christmas activities can have times designated for children with autism/additional needs, so again this is worth remembering. And when it comes to eating out, consider doing the same and ringing beforehand to ask when their quieter times are. And it is also worth considering asking the server if it would be possible to have a quieter table. This may be in the corner or a little further away from tables that are already crowded. Sometimes when you book in advance, the restaurant can ask you if you have any preference of seating.
- Consider designating a place your child can go to when out and about when they are feeling overwhelmed: When attending a Christmas party or another form of Christmas event, it is worth trying to figure out ahead of time where there may be a quiet or safe place for your child to go when they feel overwhelmed. If for example you are attending a Christmas party that a relative is putting on in their house or venue, ask them to consider ensuring your seats are in a quieter space or if there is a room in the house which is unoccupied for the duration of the party that your child can go to. This is also a space that can be used as an alternative space to be in if a certain activity might upset or stress your child.
- Find ways to show your child what they can expect: One way to help a child a great deal is by preparing them for possible scenarios of what could happen when they go to do a Christmas activity. This could be done through role play, like getting them to practice waiting to open a present, or a Christmas dinner scenario where a dish needs to be passed to them. It is also worth considering how you could use previous Christmas’s to show them what to expect. You could put a Christmas book together, filled with photos of decorations that are familiar to them, photos of relatives that you see at Christmas, photographs of the food, and focus on your own individual family traditions too; just to name a few.
- Keep a Routine: Any form of schedule usually goes out of the window at Christmas, but for as much as you possibly can, keeping as many routines as possible in place for your child is important. If you have a party in the evening with food, it’s worth considering letting your child eat at the same time they would at home, and they can always have a smaller meal or snacks at the party. It is also important they get enough sleep and keep the same sleep schedule. When they get plenty of sleep, they feel better.
- Involve your child in different jobs: Involve your child in decorating your home; it doesn’t need to be done all in one day, it can be done over multiple days. It could be something you put on their visual timetable so they know they will decorate at a certain time. This would be a fun activity and give your child a job they enjoy every day. It is also worth considering giving your child a particular job to manage throughout the festive season. This gives them control over something and can help them de-stress.
- Spread Christmas activities throughout the Christmas Season: It’s important to remember that Christmas is not just one day, it’s a whole season! Spread any festive activities you have planned throughout the holidays to prevent your child becoming overwhelmed.
- Do what works for your child and your family: The final tip we can give you is to not put pressure on yourself at Christmas time and to do what is right for your child and family. There is no right and wrong to Christmas. It’s what you make it.
So those are our ways you can help your child from becoming overwhelmed this Christmas. We hope this is of value to you and that with these tips you can find ways to enjoy the festive season with your whole family.
And finally, Merry Christmas from the Bursting with Potential Team to you and your family.