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7 tips for a meltdown-free Christmas morning

7 tips for a meltdown-free Christmas morning

Updated: August 11, 2023 · 5 Minute Read

Jeryn Cambrah

Written by:

Jeryn Cambrah

Highlights

  • Christmas can be overstimulating for autistic kids. To reduce stress, avoid loud music, burning candles, or other unnecessary stimulation like itchy Christmas sweaters or uncomfortable outfits.
  • Make sure your child has eaten, rested well (hard to do when Santa is coming, we know!), and has used the restroom (or gotten a diaper/pull-up change) before diving into opening presents.
  • You can use books, pictures, or social stories to share with your child what to expect on Christmas. For example, a picture schedule can show that your child will be having their favorite breakfast, then opening presents, then quiet time, and then visiting Grandma.

If you want to make sure your autistic child has an awesome Christmas, without the overwhelm or stress, check out our best tips for a meltdown-free Christmas morning.

 

1. Let your child know what to expect in advance

In the days and weeks before Christmas, you can use books, pictures, or social stories to share with your child what changes will be happening, and what to expect on Christmas. Share with them who will be there, what you’ll be doing, and what the order of events will be. For example, you can create a picture schedule that shows your child they’ll be having breakfast, then opening presents, then quiet time, then to Grandma’s house, etc.

 

2. Keep the basics of your child’s routine the same

While the holiday season is very exciting, it also comes with a lot of change. The house is decorated, routines have changed, your child may be out of school on break, you may have guests visiting your home, or you may be traveling to visit loved ones. To ease your child’s discomfort during all of these changes, try to keep bedtime, wake time, nap time, and mealtimes the same. Make sure they have access to the things that give them comfort, like favorite fidgets, safe foods, the quiet privacy of their room, and whatever else they normally use to stay regulated.

 

For more tips on accommodating your child’s special needs during the holidays, check out our parents’ guide to family gatherings.

 

3. Make sure your child’s basic needs are met

It seems like such a simple thing, but it’s truly a game changer. In the hustle and bustle of everything else we have to do, and in the midst of all the holiday excitement, it can slip our minds to handle the basics. Make sure your child has eaten, rested well (hard to do when Santa is coming, we know!), and has used the restroom (or gotten a diaper/pull-up change) before diving into opening presents. If your child rushes right into the fray and doesn’t want to wait for breakfast, try keeping their favorite safe foods available and somewhere they can see them and easily access them. Good ideas are cereal bars, cereal, fruit, Pediasure (if your child’s doctor recommends it), muffins, or other ready-to-go breakfast options. (There’s also no shame in pizza or chips for breakfast, if that’s what your child is into.)

 

Tending to emotional needs is important, too. Your child will need your understanding and your focus, even if they seem fine. Be on the lookout for cues that your child is headed toward a meltdown or for triggers that could upset your child. Exercise a little extra patience, as your child may not be able to communicate with you or behave in ways they normally can.

 

Ensuring that your child’s basic needs are met goes a long way in preventing meltdowns and helping them stay happy and regulated throughout the day. Even though opening presents and Christmas-morning shenanigans are exciting and distracting, your child will likely feel the effects of not doing these things and can end up in a state of dysregulation once the fun is over.

 

For more tips on how to prevent and manage meltdowns, check out our guide to autistic meltdowns.

 

4. Take breaks as necessary

Taking frequent breaks to unwind, like watching a movie, spending quiet time alone, or working on a puzzle together, can be just the ticket for helping everyone in your family stay regulated and calm on Christmas Day. This is especially true for your autistic child, who may not be able to express when they’re overwhelmed, or understand when they need a break. Try mixing in some movement breaks along with all the Christmas excitement. This can include going for a walk, an impromptu dance party, or a game of Twister. Breaks will help your child regulate their energy throughout the day and help prevent dysregulation. They’ll be able to enjoy themselves more, and so will you!

 

5. Give the right gifts

Choosing the right gift for your child with autism depends on a lot of things, like their interests, needs, and what’s developmentally appropriate for them. Go with gifts that you know your child will love, and set them up beforehand (if necessary) to avoid tricky situations on Christmas morning (like not being able to find the double-A batteries…ugh). For more gift-giving tips that will help you win Christmas morning, learn how to give autism-friendly gifts.

 

Not sure what to get your child for Christmas this year? We’ve got the ultimate holiday gift guide for autistic kids.

 

6. Avoid excess stimulation

To reduce stress on your child, avoid background music, burning candles, or other unnecessary stimulation (like itchy Christmas sweaters or uncomfortable outfits). Keep it low key, focusing on being together as a family and everyone enjoying their new gifts. It’s totally okay for your child to retreat to a quiet space and play independently, or for family members to enjoy their new gifts solo for a while. Noise level from conversations, excited squeals, and rambunctious siblings can be too much for an autistic kiddo. This is also probably not the time to try out new recipes or activities (you can pick a different day for that!) Christmas is already stimulating enough, so be mindful not to add extra on top of it.

 

If you’re hosting loved ones for Christmas, check out our guide to hosting autism-friendly family gatherings for more ways you can keep your child comfortable.



7. Pick a different travel day

Although it may be tradition to go see Grandma and Grandpa on Christmas Day, you may find it’s more comfortable for your family to stay at home on Christmas. Don’t be afraid to break with tradition or create new ones. If you can, visit family members and loved ones on a different day, and use Christmas day as a day to just rest and enjoy time together. You can video chat with loved ones or make phone calls instead. Removing travel from the picture reduces a lot of stress for your autistic child.


If skipping the trip isn’t an option, check out our ultimate travel guide for autism families for tips to make travel easier for your child.