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Surviving the season

Care for the Family’s Katharine Hill once said, “Begin by recognising that the perfect Christmas is a myth.”

The approaching holiday season can be a stressful and exceptionally busy time of year for all of us. As parents we hope to create a lovely, happy Christmas for each family member.

However, when we have a child, or children, with additional needs it can be even more difficult to meet the needs of everyone.

While none of us is an expert, we are each the expert on our own family. Here are some ideas that we have found helpful.

1. This point has to come first, be kind to yourself and lower your expectations – something doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. While it might be lovely to have homemade food, colour-coordinated parcels and a spotless house, it is not compulsory.

2. Put less emphasis on Christmas Day itself and spread the treats and celebrations over a few days. This makes it less intense for everyone. Try to prevent the build-up to Christmas beginning too soon, and get everyone involved when you can.

3. If at all possible have a ‘normal’ Christmas-free zone for those who need it. Make a haven for children who are overstimulated by the lights and decorations in school or town.

4. Special Needs toys can be expensive. Ask family or friends to club together for the more costly ones and be clear about what is appropriate for your child.

5. Consider the individual needs of each of your children. We cannot make it perfect for all of them all the time, but each one can have a near perfect moment.

6. As a parent, many events could fill your diary at Christmas. Select the ones you really want to go to and do your utmost to be there. Let your children know which you will attend.

7. Staying with family or friends can be relaxing and fun but sometimes it is hard work! If it isn’t best for your family to share Christmas day with wider family or friends then offer to visit another day. If they are visiting you, then make good use of grandparents and trusted friends to share the care of your children. Our resource Ten top tips for supporting families who care for a child with additional needs might help others to understand your family a little better.

8. Food traditions are not compulsory. Prepare and provide the type of food your family will enjoy and encourage everyone to sit together to eat it. It can be helpful to ask visiting family and friends to bring a food contribution.

9. Try to keep to some of your child’s normal routine over the holiday period, allowing familiar TV programmes and favourite toys to be preferred over new ones.

10. Remember, there isn’t a ‘right’ way to celebrate and in the years to come, your children’s favourite memories may be the oddest, simplest and least planned bits of this Christmas!