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Coping with changing routines over the festive period

  • By Sophie Baddeley
  • 13th December 2022

The festive period can be one of excitement – with lots of new sights, experiences and activities to take part in! However, all of this change may be disruptive or distressing for children and young people, particularly those with additional needs, learning disabilities or sensory processing difficulties. However, there are some strategies you can use to help make this busy time of year as manageable as possible.

Stick to usual routine wherever possible

In the chaos of Christmas it’s easy to let usual habits and routine fall away. Try and maintain as much of regular routine as possible – including bedtime and mealtimes. This consistency helps reduce overwhelm and equip people to cope better with other changes.

Prepare children in advance for new activities

Talk children through what they can expect from new events. Explain to them the kind of things they may see, hear and feel. You can use a social story to help with this. Social stories are a really helpful aid to prepare young people for new situations. Social stories can include examples of social convention – explaining the meaning behind actions, and modelling ‘correct’ behaviour. This website has compiled a list of social stories relating to Christmas experiences. It may also be helpful to explain to your child that they can leave any events at any time – make sure they know how they can show you they need to leave.

Create an event calendar

This doesn’t just have to be social occasions and events – it may also be helpful to mark other festive milestones such as taking down the decorations. Cross off the days as they happen to limit surprises and to help people visually understand how close events are to happening. Stick to this calendar and use it as a point of reference for helping to explain when events are about to happen.

Use a visual timetable

A visual timetable can help to support a person to know what’s happening now and next and lets them see the order in which they must work through activities. Check out our communication pack that can be used in conjunction with other visual timetable cards.

Take photos of your decorations

While your house is set up for Christmas take photographs of the way everything is arranged. These can be used in coming years to help explain the way the house is going to visually change – including how furniture will be arranged and where new objects can go. This can help your young person to be get ready for this change. Although festivities may only happen once a year, keeping things consistent from year to year can make this less stressful.

Relax your own expectations

So much of the festive season will be broadcast over social media which can make it really easy to comparison between you and others. This can add a lot of pressure on doing Christmas the ‘right’ way – but there is no such thing! Do what works for you and your family – don’t feel guilty for declining offers to social occasions, or for making Christmas a smaller event.

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