Although it’s often referred to as the most magical time of the year, in reality Christmas is a stressful time for most parents. The preparations begin weeks, or even months, in advance. Going shopping and finding and buying the right gifts can be stressful as well as expensive. Add in the pressures of getting the house ready, having visitors and going visiting and maybe having to cook for lots of extra people, and it can feel like a meltdown is imminent.
When your child has long term or complex health needs it can feel particularly daunting and overwhelming. Christmas is an exciting time but it can also be an incredibly disruptive period and when your child has a health condition, it magnifies the pressure and effects of that disruption. For starters, there’s the build-up and uncertainty of not really understanding when Christmas is. Usual routines and plans change and the number of events, many of them new and unpredictable, start to take place. Visually it’s a confusing time and can affect sensory overload. The appearance of a Christmas tree in the house can be strange. Lots of different Santas appearing in various locations can trigger many questions, as can expectations that aren’t met (like “it’s meant to snow at Christmas – why isn’t it?”). Children may have some very specific ideas about the presents and activities they want and even not knowing what is inside a wrapped present can be a trigger.
Factor in all the extra social occasions where there are lots of people and noise, the unfamiliar clothing that children may be wearing, and the amplified sense of emotion you get at Christmas anyway and you can appreciate why it can become incredibly difficult for them to cope. And of course, it can be difficult for you too as you try to handle all the additional Christmas pressures on top of the ongoing challenges you’re already dealing with.
But there are steps you can take to manage and alleviate some of the pressures over the Christmas period so here are some suggestions you could consider.
And finally, be aware of your own Christmas stresses. When we’re stressed we don’t process information well, particularly verbal information. And your emotions can be picked up on, magnified and mirrored back. So build in plenty of time for calm-down and chill-out breaks for everyone in the family to do their own thing. Also remember it’s very easy to fixate on what went wrong last time and what could go wrong this time. Make sure you bring balance by also remembering there were and will be good times this Christmas. You are not on your own, there are people around who will want to help so make the most of them, spread the load and give yourself permission to have some very special Christmas moments.
Written by Rachel Green