How to make Christmas Incredible for children with additional needs

Caucasian woman with a purple hoodie on smiling at the cameraHi, Jennie here, Founder of Incredible Kids and Mum to children with additional needs.

I’ll always remember one of our first Christmases together as a family. I had hand sewn a beautiful advent calendar with my child’s name and filled it with treats. Little did I know that my son had Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) – hanging 24 chocolates in front of him and telling him he could only enjoy one a day wasn’t a good start…
Coming from a wonderful large family, everything was overwhelming with hundreds of brightly wrapped presents accompanied by expectations and loud cheers as each present was opened. It wasn’t long before the meltdowns arrived thick and fast and we quickly had to adapt our plans.
The holiday season is a time of joy, togetherness, and creating lasting memories. At Incredible Kids, we understand that families with disabled children may face unique challenges during this festive season. That’s why we asked our members for their top tips and ideas on how to prepare for a calm and joyful Christmas that ensures your child feels content and less stressed.
  1. Create a Sensory-Friendly Environment

For children with sensory sensitivities, the hustle and bustle of Christmas can be overwhelming. To make your home and activities are sensory haven, consider these tips:
  • Soft lighting: Use gentle, warm lighting to create a cosy atmosphere. Keep sunglasses on hand for bright overwhelming times.
  • Calm decorations: Keep things simple.
  • Noise management: Invest in noise-canceling headphones.
  • Comfort zones: Create a designated quiet space where your child can retreat if they need a break. Consider a calming down tent if space is limited.
  1. Plan Ahead

Start planning your Christmas activities well in advance to reduce stress for both you and your child. Make a visual schedule with pictures or drawings to help your child understand what to expect. This can include decorating the tree, baking goodies, and opening presents.Two women chatting on a sofa with cups of tea

  1. Inclusive Decorations

Involve your child in decorating the Christmas tree if you think that would help them or decorate it when they are out if you think they will be overwhelmed by the process. Let them choose decorations that they like, or even create their own. This gives them a sense of ownership and participation in Christmas preparations. Help them to decide when the tree will go up and when it will be taken down.
  1. Sensory-Friendly Gifts

Select gifts that cater to your child’s needs. If your child has a meltdown over those frustrating toys relatives sometimes buy then maybe you could create an Amazon wish list (much like our Incredible Kids wish list) with ideas you know will work well for them. Consider items like fidget toys, weighted blankets, or sensory bins filled with different textures. These gifts can be both fun and calming.
Wrapping paper can be overwhelming so consider wrapping gifts in brown paper to tone down the overwhelm. Depending on your child’s age, expectations and needs you might want to spread presents out over the course of the day or week if that helps. If there’s a chance they may open the gifts early, then keep them hidden until the day. One of our families suggested printing photo labels of who each gift belongs to so that your child can understand who’ll be opening it.
  1. Simplify Traditions

If certain Christmas traditions cause stress or anxiety for your child, it’s okay to simplify or skip them altogether. Focus on the activities that bring the most joy and create cherished memories.
  1. Prepare for Santa

Meeting Santa can be a wonderful experience, but it can also be intimidating. To make the visit enjoyable:Image of person in Santa costume and woman behind a Christmas tree in a red hat with red long hair.

  1. It doesn’t have to be Turkey 🦃

One of our members has a cold buffet every year on Christmas day. None of their kids like roast dinners and preparing one makes the parents stressed so they’ve changed what they do. It may not look right to the outside world but it’s about what works for you. Consider involving your child in the preparation of these special dishes.
  1. Incredible Self-Care

Taking care of yourself is essential. We all know that but it’s easier said than done. When you’re well-rested and relaxed, you can better support your child. Remember to carve out time for self-care, even if it’s just a few minutes to recharge.
Kate Laine-Toner has created a free Vimeo training video session for parents to help them support their autistic children at Christmas and during the holidays. It includes information about managing SEND school issues, low demand parenting and other issues that affect children with autism at Christmas time.
  1. Embrace the Magic of the Season

Two children on a sofa with Santa hats onLastly, remember that the true spirit of Christmas is not about how many gifts you have or whether your Christmas looks the same as everyone else. If you want to focus on the real meaning of Christmas, St Mary’s Church in Timsbury near Bath has a Special Carol Service especially for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and their families. Join them on Sunday 10 December at 3pm to sing some festive carols, followed by hot chocolate.
Christmas is a time to celebrate with love and understanding, and with a few thoughtful preparations, you can help to reduce stress for you and your child with additional needs. At Incredible Kids, we’re here to support you and your family every step of the way. We can’t guarantee a meltdown-free Christmas, but we hope that some of these tips will help.
Have a wonderful Christmas that’s right for you.
Jennie Prewett
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