The 12 “Dos” of Christmas for special needs parents

Christmas is almost upon us and it seems like it’s been a long time coming. The retail hype seems to start earlier each year so it’s no wonder many parents are frazzled wrecks by the time the ‘Big Day’ itself arrives (including me), especially if your children get over-excited or over-anxious.

With the shopping, the planning, the preparation, the tricky balancing act of keeping various family members placated, it's often less Christmas break, more Christmas breakdown.

The Samaritans see a whopping 25% increase in calls to their support line over the festive period. On top of the pester pressure, there can also be the stress of visits from relatives or perhaps from the requests of former partners (the rate of separation and divorce is significantly higher in families with SEND children).

To help you cope with the less welcome aspects of Christmas, I've put together a list of the 12 things to remember over the 12 days of Christmas.

1. Know your limits

It’s easy to Feel overwhelmed by the preparation for Christmas and all the school events. Finding a coping mechanism can be really helpful and for me, it's to only attend what I know I can realistically deal with.
To visit my son's school, it's a 32 mile round trip (many special needs schools are a long distance from home), so although I enjoy attending all the special events, it is not always possible. If something slips your mind or you just can’t fit it in, forgive yourself and move on. It happens, you’re human!

perfect xmas

2. Avoid perfection

We’ve all attempted it (well I know I have…) the tree has to look ‘just right’, the turkey perfectly presented, presents wrapped with neatly folded corners and a bow to finish them off. But, does it really matter? Will a few cut corners be remembered? And anyway, whose Christmas are you comparing yours to? Jamie Oliver's?

Honestly, who wants to watch their loving parent morph into the Tasmanian Devil because the cake icing isn't perfect or the gravy has a few lumps (sieve it, dear).
Flawed is good, it's unique and can prompt amusing table conversation over why the fondant Santa now resembles a Teletubby.

3. Adopt self-help techniques

Write a list, plan the internet shopping list in advance and if the delivery spot you had in mind is not available, take the next best one and purchase all your heavy goods and non-perishables. Go for frozen not fresh. It will be ‘alright on the night’.

4. Try to have one good laugh a day

A friend taught me this when I was becoming stressed and still learning about my son’s autism and how to manage the impact of his behaviour. Don’t take the whole season too seriously, it happens every year and in reality last two days. That’s two days food you need and if you run out there’s usually a petrol station or local shop open. Failing that a neighbour may have just what you need.

5. Eat Well

Sounds silly perhaps but keep yourself healthy, stock up on fresh fruit and healthy snacks. They’re easy to grab when time is short and can provide the energy boost you need to keep you going until your next meal.

6. Live for today

Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is yet to come. Live life at the time it is now. Mindfulness is a great way to help you focus on this. Check out http://franticworld.com/resources/free-meditations-from-mindfulness-for-health for some free meditation downloads and information on Mindfulness (I’ll be preparing a mindfulness post for January to give more information on what I believe is a brilliant technique for reducing stress).

7. Remember, you (and your Christmas efforts) are good enough!

Trust who you are and what you say. You know your child and your personal situation better than anyone else. Other people’s comments are just their own personal opinion, not fact!
I’ve been told by others that there are too many disabled bays in car parks, that my son just needs a firm hand, and the age old, ‘Why don’t you just tell him to stop’? Cos I'd never thought of that!

All of these comments chipped away at my self-esteem and confidence, leading me to question my own abilities as a parent. Over time, I have learned to trust myself and I can respond, questioning where their thinking has come from. It’s non-confrontational and often sparks an interesting conversation.

8. Reward yourself

You definitely need to reward yourself. Whether it's a double chocca mocca coffee and a read of a magazine, a swim, sitting cuddling up with those special to you and watching a Christmassy movie, whatever you choose. Cherish the enjoyment and let everything else wait….for a while!

8. Stay calm

Easier said than done in some situations, I hear you saying! But when does getting mad make things any easier? It just prolongs the negative experience and takes longer to work through. If you have time limits to adhere to, then prioritise the important things first. If it doesn't get done is it really the end of the world?

9. Ignore unhelpful people

Most of us have experienced them, the ‘Yes I know what you mean, my child does that ALL of the time’.

Most people don’t mean to be unhelpful, in fact I honestly feel that most people think they are helping. Those little phrases we’re all so familiar with such as, ’I don’t know why you just don’t tell him No!’ Mmmm hadn’t thought of that one either! Or ‘She wouldn’t have got away with that in my day'. Well they probably wouldn’t, but this isn’t their day, is it? Thank goodness!

Looking at this another way, it’s not about what others say, but about the responses we give, which are all too often set at defending ourselves. I used to feel I had to defend my parenting to those ‘older and wiser’, but that is just not true. Agree with them, ‘No that’s right Aunt Gloria, it wasn’t like that in your day was it?’ and see what response you get. You might be surprised!

10. Deep breath, be strong

You’re a parent or carer of a child with SEND, you’re already strong! Now it’s time to start believing it!

11. Ask for help

Don’t feel you are the only one that can do everything, delegate some tasks out. I used to write nearly a hundred Christmas cards, now I only do those for people I can’t verbally wish a Merry Christmas to. I’ve also found some very willing helpers in friends' older children who seem to love wrapping up presents. So for a small fee, (a can of pop and a couple of pounds) they have agreed to help me out wrapping up some presents. It is such a relief and a weight of my mind (and I suspect the presents will look much nicer than my attempt).

Monty-Xmas
Monty just wants fun and laughter, not perfection

12. Enjoy yourself

Above all enjoy yourself, don’t take it all too seriously, it is only two days and they are usually forgotten by new year, unless you succumbed to drinking a whole bottle of sherry and fell face first in the trifle. That's a keeper!

Ensure you have your favourite treat in and if you follow some of the above I hope it will help make the festive season a lot easier to enjoy.

Merry Christmas from Angela!

Angela Kelly
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Angela Kelly

Psychotherapist & SEND parent at Emotions Counselling & Psychotherapy
Angela Kelly is a practising psychotherapist in Surrey. She is the parent of two sons who have autism and ADHD. Angela is Special Needs Jungle's Mental Health Editor
Angela Kelly
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