For many people Christmas is a wonderful celebration, but we all know that for families with specialist care needs, the change of routine can make it a challenging time of year. So we’ve compiled some festive tips and ideas to help you manage your stress levels this Christmas.
1. Allow time for yourself
You can’t keep everyone happy all of the time. You’ll also enjoy yourself more if you’re well rested and relaxed. Take time out, even if it’s just for 5 minutes to be by yourself, breathe and refocus. Plan ahead and decide that you’re going to go and see a movie on your own, or go for a walk at a specific time and make sure you’re not doing everything for everyone else and nothing for yourself. We can’t stress the importance of this enough. If you are not the only carer, take turns to take time out and repect each others need for a break. If you have any top tips you’d like to share you can add them to the comments below this post.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Make a list of all the tasks that need doing and do some delegating. Make everyone aware of what needs to be done and ask for help. Allocate tasks to family and friends instead of trying to do everything yourself. But don’t turn things into a military operation. Above all try to enjoy yourself and don’t take it all too seriously, it is only two days out of the whole year, so get things done together and try to have fun doing it. Friends and family may not know how to support you unless you tell them.
3. Shop online
Shopping online is ideal if you want to avoid the annual Christmas crowds and the stress that Christmas shopping can induce. However make sure you check the expected delivery dates carefully so you don’t get caught out by the last post.
4. Plan ahead
If you’re worried about how the change in routine will affect your loved ones, think about telling them the plans for the day in advance, for example what time you’ll open presents, who will arrive when and what time the TV comes on. Maybe use an image chart that you can add events to together using post it notes, so they know what to expect and when. It’ll help the whole family take a little extra care and make your day less chaotic. Also be wary of over-scheduling. It is tempting to make frequent visits, attend gatherings and get involved in many activities during holiday period. But this can often be too much for a special family. Surely it’s better to have one successful experience rather than many stressful and difficult ones.
5. Use an Advent Calendar
Adding a festive activity to each day, like opening the advent calendar, is not only fun but will help (children in particular) to visualise the countdown to Christmas. Incorporating jokes and messages into the advent calendar can help to remind you what a special time of year it is and also add an element of fun. Messages could include tasks like ‘Give everyone a hug’ or ‘Sing a funny song and make someone smile’.
6. Stick to your usual routine
If you have a set daily routine for mealtimes, then stick to them for Christmas too. There’s no need to have Christmas Dinner at 3pm if you normally eat at 5pm. If you work around your usual routine there’s less chance of chaos. If your loved one is a picky eater or on a special diet, or if there is a risk of tantrums, difficult behavior and stress over missing his/her favorite food, bring your own supply to gatherings and get togethers. Furthermore, if there are certain items that will help calm your child; such as iPads, books, stuffed animals or weighted vests, make sure you have those with you too. Try to also give them some Christmas-free time every day.
7. Decorate slowly
Returning home to find a tree with flashing lights could be a bit of a shock to some, so why not take some time with your decorations. Instead of doing all the decorations yourself, do it as a family together and involve everyone in the process. You could incorporate this into your advent calendar by adding a task to put up new decorations in the house each day and your grand finale could be adding a star/angel to the top of the tree on Christmas Eve. If needs be, you could limit all decorations to one room and call it the ‘Christmas Room’ and in so doing the rest of the house stays the same and can be a safe haven for those overwhelmed by the festivies.
8. Presents wrapped and unwrapped
For the visually impaired or those with a sensory impairment, you could buy lots of sparkly Christmas wrapping paper as it’s very good for catching and holding their visual attention. Gold, in particular, or anything with a prism effect seems to work well. On the opposite end of the spectrum, whilst some people like suprises, others find the unknown, unplanned aspect of presents stress inducing and overwhelming. You could give wrapping paper to play with ahead of Christmas to cut, rip and tear so they get comfortable with the noise and look/feel of it. Get them to wrap things up and then unwrap them too and in the process you could introduce small gifts with small elements of suprise in the run up to Christmas to get them used to the idea that sometimes they’ll unwrap something they’re not expecting. For those who have trouble with fine motor skills, why not wrap presents in such a way so that they’re easy to open and avoid using tape and ribbons – there’ll be more of a sense of satisfaction when they can complete the taks and open a present all by themselves.
9. Spread out the gift giving
Don’t feel that all the presents have to be opened on Christmas morning in the traditional way. Why not spread the gift giving throughout the day and even extend it to Boxing Day too – you might find that a gradual approach lilke this leads to less tantrums making your loved ones much calmer and happier, meaning everyone has a far more enjoyable time. It’s also best to make sure that any presents that need to be cut out of their boxes, configured, need batteries etc are all ready to go. So do all the hard work before you wrap the gift, as if its all set up and ready to go as soon as it’s unwrapped, that can make the difference between acceptance and rejection and cause less stress for everyone.
10. Don’t forget the giving
Help and encourage the person you are caring for to give gifts. This provides an excellent opportunity to work on social skills like thinking of other people, other people’s needs and interests and being kind and helpful.
11. Have a whip round
If friends and family are stressing out because they don’t know what gift to buy, think of something they can all contribute money towards that you know will be well received or needed. It could be something that you have considered buying but it’s beyond your personal budget and by clubbing together it becomes affordable. You might find that they’ll be quite relieved not to have the stress of choosing something and also the fact that what they’re contributing towards will be something that will be valued and treasured. Alternatively in order to alleviate the worry of buying a gift for someone with special needs, make a list of gift suggestions for friends and relatives to choose from.
12. Have a quiet Christmas
A small and quiet Christmas can be a lovely chance to spend time with your family and why not take time out together and have a quiet, relaxed Christmas. You can always invite the rest of the family, as well as friends, around on Boxing Day instead. Don’t be afraid to say “no,” to anything that does not contribute to your own or your family’s well-being. People who care about you will not be offended if you decline an invitation. Simply explain that it will not work for your special family. Figure out which events and activities are must-dos and let go of the rest and don’t feel guilty about your decisions.
We hope the above tips will help you this Christmas and if you have any comments or tips of your own, please share them in the comments box below. We really value your input.