Tips for stress-free family festivities

Tips for stress-free family festivities
Posted on Wed 6 Dec 2017

The festive season can be a stressful time for everyone but if you have a loved one with a physical or neurological disability there can be another level of complexity you need to navigate during the holidays.

You may already have strategies in place to deal with gatherings of the extended family but in case you don’t, Robyn McMurdo, Social Worker LifePoints, Cerebral Palsy Alliance, has come up with these suggestions to ease the way.

At your house

Sometimes it just seems easier to stay on home turf even if it’s going to increase your workload. You know that your son or daughter will be comfortable; you have their supplies handy and access to the bathroom and the backyard is sorted. But to keep your stress levels down Robyn recommends you:

  • Make a list of what needs to be done and do as much as possible ahead of time.
  • Consider online shopping for gifts and groceries and have them delivered.
  • Ask for help and accept it if it’s offered. “Friends and family are usually happy to bring food or arrive early and assist with setting up,” Robyn says. “Don’t forget to ask for help cleaning up. Extra pairs of hands can make a huge difference.”

At someone else’s home

“Many families take turns to host which is fine when you know the house and have spent time there,” says Robyn. “But if you are invited to a home that you are not familiar with politely ask if you can check how accessible it is before you accept the invitation.”
Robyn is aware that in some families this can be a tricky negotiation but it is easier to have the conversation well ahead of the big day than to discover the toilet is not accessible after you have arrived. “People who have no experience with disability can sometimes underestimate the problem a few steps or a tight turn in a hallway can be.”
She warns it’s especially important to ensure that the toilet is large enough to allow access for the person with the disability and an adult in case help is required.
Once you feel confident you can attend the gathering, Robyn recommends you:

  • Inform your host ahead of time that you son or daughter has a disability that might affect their behaviour, toileting, movements or the noises they make.
  • Offer to bring food that you know your child will enjoy – especially if they have dietary requirements.
  • Ask that room be allowed for special seating or a wheelchair at the table. “Even if you need to feed your child before the festive meal, make sure that there is still room for them at the table so they feel included.”

On the day, estimate how long your child will be able to manage before they tire and let your host know this before, or soon after, you arrive. “If you know things will go downhill after two hours then politely leave. It’s better to have quality time with your family rather than quantity.”

Other tips

  • Be aware of situations that may create sensory overload – loud noises, flashing lights, too many people and too much sugar. “In another person’s home you may have to ask for lights or music to be turned off but if this prevents a meltdown it will be less stressful for everyone.”
  • Before the outing, brief your child on what to expect so there are no surprises. Take them through all the steps, for example, “We will drive to Aunty’s house to see all your cousins. We will be opening presents and then having lunch outside in the backyard ….” Robyn says explaining what will happen can help reduce anxiety in the person who has the disability.
  • Explain the social rules that Christmas requires such as how they may need to wear a silly paper hat or say a polite ‘thank you’ for a gift even if the gift is not what they want. “Don’t assume that your child remembers these niceties from last year.”
  • Involve your love one in the spirit of Christmas by allowing them to make choices about decorations or the food they eat. “It can be as simple as holding up two decorations and asking them to indicate which one they want on the tree or table.”

Don’t forget siblings
“Let siblings make choices on food and decorations as well,” suggests Robyn. “Also be aware that siblings have a real radar for fairness so they can be annoyed by all the care that’s being taken for the child with the disability and then swing into being overprotective if someone reacts badly to their brother or sister.”
Robyn recommends preparing siblings for the festivities in a similar way as you prepare the child who has the disability. “Include siblings in the planning so they know what to expect.”

For children, young and old, the receiving of presents can be a highlight of the day. “Buying a gift for a person who has a disability can be a challenge so relatives will probably be grateful if you suggest what your child might like.”
Robyn also recommends wrapping or presenting gifts in a way that allows the person with the disability to unwrap it themselves. “Opening the present is half the fun,” she says.

Take advantage of Coles’ ‘quiet hour’
Every Tuesday between 10.30am and 11.30am, Coles has a Quiet Hour where shopping is made easier for people who can’t cope with lights and noise. Store lights will be dimmed by 50 per cent, the music will be turned off, the volumes of the registers and scanners will be turned to low and there will be no PA announcements unless there is an emergency.
“Sieze the opportunity to take your child supermarket shopping because free fruit is offered at customer service and Coles is adding team members to support customers,” says Robyn. “Learning to supermarket shop is a good life skills experience for youngsters who have a disability.”

The NSW Coles supermarkets having the quiet hour are:
Banora Point
Castle Hill
Kings Langley
Manly Vale
Moss Vale
Old Bar
Warners Bay
Wattle Grove

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We understand the demands of family life, especially when you have a family member with additional needs.

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