Caroline Pringle, Families and Professionals Advisor (Child Enquiries), shares some strategies for coping with the festive season
It’s that time again to share our Christmas tips!
For the past two ‘Tips for Christmas’ blogs, I’ve commented on the effects of covid on school and home life, I am hopeful that this won’t be the case this year.
I trust the following strategies (some of them you have previously shared with me) will enable you to manage the festive season without too many hitches.
School events: I am aware that schools are planning this year to have nativities, parties, school discos etc. Although this is great news for some, for children with fragile x this may increase their anxiety levels as their routine will be disrupted. They may well experience sensory overload due to issues such as loud noise levels, different smells, different food, and wearing party clothes rather than their uniform. From speaking with families, I know it is deciding what your child participates in and then using strategies such as visual aids, social stories, sensory fidget bags and possibly ear defenders to help. (Please contact me directly for more support on this).
Visual schedules: Using a calendar or a visual timetable to prepare your child for Christmas day can be really helpful. What better resource than the traditional advent calendar (I will leave you to decide if you want your child to have the sugar rush of a chocolate one!) this can be an excellent way to count down to the big day. It is important to know how this type of countdown will affect your child; for some children highlighting the day and the build-up can lead to high levels of anxiety or over-excitement. If you need any help with a visual schedule, then do contact me (email@example.com or 01371 875100).
Maintaining a routine: it can be helpful to maintain consistency through the Christmas period by keeping key aspects of the normal routine the same, such as the times of meals, or the routines for getting ready in the morning.
Preparing for guests: If you are having guests over during Christmas, try making a calendar which shows their photos and names to let your child know when they are coming and going.
Letting family and friends know: let those sharing Christmas with you know your plans in advance and how it is going to work for your family.
Introducing decorations: Sometimes the new and different decorations can be a bit of a shock. Think about decorating gradually and try to involve your child in changes to the house e.g., let them handle decorations or help to decorate the tree in stages. Some families find it better just to have one ‘Christmas room’ with decorations.
Managing visits: If you are visiting family or friends, this could well be a home they are familiar with. However, try to be the first to arrive, or first to go into a room so your child doesn’t have to enter and feel overwhelmed.
Presents: A big pile of presents may be overwhelming, so introducing presents one by one can help to make it more manageable. Some people may also find it easier if the presents are not wrapped, to reduce the anticipation of waiting to find what is inside. It may also help to encourage your child to include realistic gifts on their Christmas list, to avoid any disappointment.
In addition, talk to family and friends as your child’s responses to gifts might not be what they are expecting!
Christmas dinner: Dinner time can be stressful, so think about giving the option of eating before or after everyone else. It can also be good to ensure not too much food is on a child’s plate. This can help with sickness too, which may happen if they get over-anxious or excited.
Having a focus: Giving your child a ‘job’, such as giving out the Christmas presents or collecting wrapping paper; this can help to provide a focus.
Time-out: Make sure that there are opportunities for quiet-time, or ‘Christmas-free-time’. This can involve pre-planning a nap or some relaxing time during the day, especially around times which might be stressful, like when others are opening presents. Also making sure that there is a quiet place available that your child can go to (or be guided to) for some space during the day if things become too much. Try doing something that they find calming, such as listening to music or watching a favourite DVD. Remember you are creating your own traditions that will work for you as family.
I hope you have found these tips helpful. If there anything else that has worked for you or your family, let me know your experiences and I will update our list!
I am sure the festive season will be a very exciting time however you celebrate this year. It may be full of decorations, flashing lights, and a lot of noise or you may opt for a calmer and quieter time.
All of us at the Fragile X Society wish you a very happy Christmas!
Caroline Pringle, updated October 2022