Christmas is a wonderful chance to celebrate, look back over the past year and create wonderful memories with family and friends.
However, for many of the children I work with, Christmas Day can often be a very overwhelming experience. It can be a very busy day that presents many additional sensory challenges with large gatherings, driving to unfamiliar places, loud music and bright decorations.
Christmas can also be very socially demanding with lots of people and the expectation to participate in traditions that require the ability to wait and self-regulate. Planning ahead can assist to make Christmas Day go more smoothly.
5 tips to assist your child:
- Make a visual schedule of what the day will include and discuss this in advance. Where possible, let your child know the order of events: when they will open presents, who will see, what they will eat, where they will be driving to etc.
- Don’t feel that you have to stay the entire time if you are going to a family gathering. Maybe aim to stay just for a short while or go for the parts that you know your child can cope with.
- Have an escape plan for if things start to get too much. This could be to go to a quite room of the house or a quiet place outside. It could be to go for a short walk and come back or it could be to retreat to the car and head to the safety of home. It can be helpful to have some of your child’s favourite toys or activities on hand that can help to distract or calm them down if needed.
- Make a short story to explain the etiquette for giving and receiving gifts. This can include saying “Thank you” and also discuss how to manage their emotions and respond, especially if they receive a gift that they don’t like. It can be helpful to discuss the escape plan as well so they know what they can do if they need a break.
- Use play to reinforce what might happen throughout the day e.g. Use puppets and figurines to play out the steps in the schedule or social story.
I hope that with these strategies you can work towards making Christmas Day less stressful!
-Kate Kleinau, Occupational Therapist
Please feel free to ask questions or give me your feedback. I am always more than happy to answer any emails personally.