How can I help my child with SEND cope over Christmas?

Surroundings can change how children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) behave. Light, colour, sound, smell, texture and taste can all have an effect. These sensory sensitivities are common in autistic children and children with additional needs. They might make times like Christmas a bit tricky.

Over the Christmas holidays, lots of children will be spending more time at home than normal. This can present a new set of challenges for them and for you. Planning in advance will mean that you’re better prepared and can all enjoy the festive period!

SEND at Christmas: a small child in a pink dress puts a red bauble onto a Christmas tree
  • Make a list of the things that can be challenging for you child. This could be anything from big crowds, loud noises, surprises, or bright lights. Try to think about all the times over the holidays when they might experience those. Think about how you might be able to avoid those situations. If avoiding them isn’t an option, how can you help your child prepare?
  • Let your child have a say in the Christmas decorations at home. They can help you chose the lights, colours and textures that they feel comfortable with. It’s also a fun activity for you to spend time on together!
  • Keep one room in the house decoration-free. Try to make sure it looks like it usually does. This can be a safe space for your child if they feel overwhelmed.
  • It can be fun to surprise children with gifts. But some find this element of Christmas overwhelming. Instead, you could let your child know about what kinds of things they will get to open on Christmas Day. You could tell them you will give them a book and the surprise is which book you choose. It might feel strange at first but it could help them feel less anxious and more excited.
  • A change in daily routine can be difficult for some children. Try to prepare them each day for what is coming ‘tomorrow’. Talk to them about who will be there, what they will do and what they will eat. Some children might like to have some control over some of these things. You could give them a choice between two or three different activities.
  • Try to keep some of their routine the same. There are some parts of the day that don’t need to change. It can be helpful to start and end their day with something normal. Think about morning routines, as well as bathtime, bedtime, and storytime.
  • Christmas is a time where there might be extra smells. That might be lots of cooking, festive spices, or smelly candles! If your child is sensitive to smell, let them know when there is going to be strong smells in the house. Try to protect your child’s bedroom from any smells, or give them alternative things to smell. Depending on the scents they find comforting, you could use essential oil rollers or lemon-scented lip balm. Rub these on your child’s wrists so they can smell them when they need to.
  • There are often fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Prepare your child for this and talk to them about what to expect with the noise. You could make some firework pictures together to turn it into a positive experience! Ear defenders are also useful for some children.
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