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Managing children's behaviour at Christmas

With guest contribution from Liz Williams special needs expert.

Christmas is a great time for many, the excitement, presents, looking forward to seeing family and of course the food and wine! The unfortunate side effect is that routine is broken, the excitement can affect sleep and eating patterns and children with special needs can find Christmas a very challenging time.

Please find listed some ideas that should help us to get through the festive period, minimise the distress and disruption and enable our children to enjoy the festival in their own way.

1. Keep to a routine as much as possible and remember all the tricks available for bedtime such as bath time, story and bed, there are many great Christmas books that help children to understand the story of Christmas, talk about what will happen and explain present giving as well as receiving.

2. If you are involved in charitable giving, talk about why you are giving, use the subject of Christmas to explain about people worse off, Baby Jesus is an ideal example! Concrete examples are a help – books or magazine articles.

3. For younger children, try to celebrate at a time that enables them to keep to their routine, use a visit to Father Christmas or a Christmassy treat to give incentive for good behaviour. It helps if you tell them the sort of “good behaviour “ that you want to see. Just describe it simply “I want to see you holding my hand” “ I want to hear your quiet voice” and make sure you notice when they are doing these things.

4. If you have to take your children shopping, give them a small amount of pocket money, ask if they would like to be very kind and buy a gift for a friend, still focus on giving rather than receiving, if they disagree the money is taken away before you leave the house.

5. Crafts are a great way for your child to make their own contribution to the celebration it promotes sharing and turn taking and children love to make things.

6. On the day itself don't rush to open the presents, give a small stocking or large sock with an assortment of pocket money items and after breakfast open the presents one at a time, this enables the present opening to last a good amount of time and you can note which present has been received by whom. Make sure you have a pen and paper ready! It is also a good lesson for patience in this time of instant gratification.

7. Look after yourself in a time of great stress, especially if you are having to cutback due to finances, catch up with friends, treat yourself to a night out, things will be so much easier to deal with, including tantruming children. Try and get a few good nights sleep before the festive period.

8. If you have a little one with special needs, think about what might trigger a response, again keep to routine as much as possible, if it is new to them avoid having your entire family round and keep the celebration low key, if they find Christmas difficult have a favourite toy nearby, play calming music, let them play. If present opening upsets them and you have other children keep present opening to one at a time. Your child may find decorations upsetting, allow siblings to decorate their own room. You will know your child’s needs the best.

9. Parents are not superhuman and arguments and squabbling will happen, making sure you prepare as much as possible will reduce the stress and help you to get through this very busy time. If things don’t go according to plan don’t beat yourself up – just hope it goes better next time and have a little think if there is anything you would change.


  1. It's such a challenging time of the year. Good luck. Mine are now that bit older and can handle all the build up. x

  2. Hi Suzannah, many thanks for your comment, I hope you have a lovely Christmas with your family.