Coping with Christmas

Wednesday 8 December 2021

For some children, especially those who have experienced trauma and those with additional needs, Christmas can be an overwhelming and triggering time.

We’ve pulled together some advice and tips for keeping things as calm as possible so you can enjoy the festive period with your family.

Do what suits your family and try not to feel pressured to do too much.

Breakfast with the elves, meeting father Christmas, winter wonderland, Panto, Christmas fayres, flashing lights and loud music; constant reinforcement that Christmas is coming on TV, from school, from grandparents – often starting in November!

It’s a lot for anyone to keep up with and the heightened emotions and changes in routine can leave children feeling overwhelmed and unable to regulate themselves.

We can often fall trap to the pressures of society and social media that we must do as much as possible and jam pack our schedules in the run up to Christmas. But the advice we hear from our ATV parents time after time is keep it simple! 

You know your children best, if you think it is too much for Grandma to take the children to panto, the fayre and a visit to Father Christmas all in one weekend, then you could try gently explaining why it is not a good idea, sometimes it is about managing expectations of those around us to benefit our children.

Plan ahead and put strategies in place.

Wherever possible, plan your Christmas in advance with your family, friends and any support services. Share your plans with your children so they know what you will be doing and when, and who else will be there, this can minimise some of the anxiety some children may experience when taken out of their routine. If it is helpful, use visual aids such as calendars, lists and schedules to help plan your Christmas.

Think about and plan around sensory differences that could cause you distress or discomfort, consider ear defenders etc for times of potential sensory overload.
Create or find a quiet space where you can take a break if you get overwhelmed. You may want this to be a completely Christmas-free area, particularly around the main days of Christmas or at key times that there may be additional stress.

 Consider decorating gradually, for example, you could put the Christmas tree in position, decorate it the next day, then put up other decorations even later. Create Christmas-free areas of the home without decorations.

Keep things low key.

We’ve all been there, it’s Christmas day and you start with opening presents at home, then you’ve got to go to the in-laws for present opening, then Grandma and Grandad come round for lunch, then it’s visiting time at Auntie and Uncles. It is exhausting and that’s just for us grown ups.

Think about how you can avoid going here, there and everywhere, can you space things out a bit over the Christmasperiod and keep things a bit more low key at home, particularly on Christmas day itself?

Presents – as a parent it can be tempting to want to pile the presents high, we love our children and want to show them through gifts at Christmas but for some children it can be overwhelming and make them feel under pressure to act a certain way when they open/receive them.

Advice from some of our ATV parents:

 “ We don’t push our little one to open all his presents on Christmas day, sometimes it is up to a week later. We also let family and friends around us know this so there is no expectation of opening in front of them”

 “The best advice I can give is to not overdo it with gifts, gestures and big gatherings. We did that the first year and we learned the hard way. It’s so overwhelming in every way. No huge piles of presents, small gatherings, give grandparents a day each over the Christmas period instead of everyone at once. Christmas can still be magical, you need to make memories your way and if family/friends get upset then that’s to do with them not you”

"We take our time with presents and only 1 person opens a present at a time. It's all very calm and we also stop to have a play, because mum and dad play too the kids love this as it means having our full attention. We also have Christmas Dinner on Xmas eve then picky food Xmas day so that both parents on hand to play and everyone enjoys the day. One year we were still opening presents on the 29th!"


Create a Christmas Calm Kit, click here.
The very wobbly Christmas - A Story About Having A Great Family Christmas, Against all the Odds
Calm down strategies for children