Christmas tips for parents and carers of disabled children

Christmas is a time of fun, giving and warmth, but for many children with complex needs and those who care for them it can be a challenging time. Here we present a selection of tips from our online community for helping the festive season go smoothly.

Preparation

Food

“Pre-prepare as much of the dinner beforehand as possible, perhaps even to the point of par boiling and freezing the veg or buying pre-prepared veg so that it is a little easier on the day. Christmas is always more busy than any other time as you can't just reduce the care you need to give for your disabled child, and their expectations are often high like any other child.” – Community member

Wrapping paper

Wrapping paper can be difficult to open for children with complex needs, so you might consider making things easier for them by using bags, boxes or other simple containers for presents.

Familiarity

“Christmas is traditionally the time when children get new toys but try to have a few of their favourite toys and teddies/dolls around so they have familiar toys near them on Christmas day. It might make it less intimidating for them.” – Community member

Present prep

If your child has attention difficulties or is easily frustrated, it may be a good idea to remove awkward packaging from presents and insert batteries as needed beforehand. That way there are no lengthy delays that can potentially cause an upset.

Days out

If you’re planning a family day out over the Christmas period, check out the Rough Guide to Accessible Britain website and Euan’s Guide for ideas.

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Christmas Day

Managing stimuli

If your child has difficulties handling external stimuli, take care to manage the day accordingly. For example, make sure that there are not too many different things going on at the same time, limit the amount of flashing Christmas lights and be mindful if your child is particularly sensitive to smells, such as those of Christmas dinner cooking.

Christmas presents

"just give out a few at a time. I used to tell mine Rudolf had a sore foot. That way they don’t get too many at once and it reduces the sensory overload. I actually kept a few little ones for the next five days. It kept them calmer overall.” – Community member

Calming environments

Create a ‘calm space’ that you can take your child to if they become over-stimulated or anxious. Allow them to take 20-minutes or so out from what can be a very busy and emotional day, or however long they need. This is particularly important if you’re spending Christmas or Boxing Day at a relative’s house. Equally, make sure you stay calm yourself, as children are likely to pick up on it if you’re stressed, and this may have a knock-on effect.

Noise

If you’re having a large family gathering, the noise levels are likely to increase as the festive occasion goes on. Earplugs can be a good way of countering this if your child is sensitive to noise.

Siblings

If your child has non-disabled siblings, make sure that they are also catered for. You can do so by having set times during Christmas day where they’re allowed to make more noise for example, and you, your partner or a relative can take your child to another place in the house during this time.