Saturday 19 December 2020

Preparing our kids for the new COVID safe Christmas

child under real Christmas Tree

Christmas brings with it many changes. Despite being a very exciting time of year the upheaval and appearances around the home can cause some stress and this year it's going to be even more different. We won't have lots of people over and the day will be different due to staying safe and COVID-19. So how do we prepare our autistic and neurotypical kids for the changes ahead of them?

Preparation is key

Just like everything else we organise and do whether it's returning to school, staying in a new place or something wild like taking the kids zip lining across the Canadian Rockies for the first time, it all starts with preparation.

It's just the same with our home at Christmas. Thankfully there's a lot of preparation at school in the run up to Christmas. The kids know it's coming up at school before anything happens at home. But we talk about it and let them know when things are going to change around the home. Getting and decorating the Christmas Tree is one of the key events and we prepared the kids for this. 

But kids also expect events to follow similar patterns.  That means if Grandparents have always visited for Christmas, they could be expecting the same thing this year.  You could create a 'who is coming' chart so the child knows who to expect on what days. Simply have a picture of Christmas, and photos of who will be there and perhaps their names written underneath so they know who will be expected.  If people are going to be wearing facemasks, then get photos of them wearing their facemasks or draw one on over the top of an old photo. 

If we are also planning to see people on zoom etc on Christmas day, we will practice this before hand so there's a chance it will work on on the day and they will understand what to do and participate in it. 

Countdown calendar

Knowing exactly when people are coming and when the big day is due is important or my kids.  They also like to know other things, like when their Dad is going start working again in the home, when they might be expected back at school and so on. Having these activities on a countdown calendar can work well for some families. We can have a countdown calendar so they know when it's Christmas day and who is going to be there on the day.

Our eldest likes to know when it's happening but doesn't like to talk about it. By having a visual calendar he can refer to it anytime he likes without it being mentioned and this is less stressful for him. 

We've also schedules for the day, so or example, opening presents, having breakfast, visitors arrive, Christmas dinner, people go home. 

Other changes that may be to keep everyone safe

Even though we have prepared the kids, our middle son in particular needs to see the change. He's had some real difficulty in the past when he's come home and found the living room covered in decorations and furniture rearranged to accommodate people arriving.  

This year things may be different just for Christmas day if one relative is visiting.  There may be windows open and everyone might wear extra jumpers.  Furniture might be moved or there could be a separate table for families to sit in different places for dinner for example.  Whatever if happening, we need to let our kids see it happen and be part of it so it's not a surprise.  We can also keep as much 'normal' as possible, including them eating toast for Christmas lunch if that's what suits them.

We can also make our kids familiar with us wearing face masks so that when they see others they will not be surprised by them. We made an effort to get our kids used to seeing people in and wearing face masks themselves and its made life much easier.

Allow them to express their concerns

My kids worry about a lot of things. Our son Anthony is autistic and has ADHD and struggles with lots of things. He suffers from anxiety. I have my own difficulties in 'letting things go'. It leads to further issues with sleep in our home and can have a general affect on how the boys cope daily. They have less resilience and this puts us at greater risk of mental health issues, especially now. 

A clinical psychologist once told me that if you hide worries from your kids or don't listen to theirs they then have two things to worry about - the thing that's the worry and the fact that they don't know how bad it is or that you don't think their worry is as serious as they do. 

Talk to the kids about what's happening and why.  Talk about COVID with the kids and why that's changed things.  You could think about using worry stones for worries that we can't do anything about to - they really work. 

It's going to be different this year, but that's OK.  We'll see people again one day soon, but in the meantime we work with what is certain and letting the kids know what's expected will make for a better and safer Christmas for us all. 

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