child in Christmas hatChildren with Disabilities Holiday Survival Guide

Due to their level of life experiences children are less able to comprehend change and are less adept at handling it. We can completely mess with their little minds when we throw holidays at them! Even children with no mental or physical disabilities can have trouble navigating this time of year. Let’s look at some tips to help your child have a successful holiday season.



Most children are creatures of habit. During normal work and/or school days we have developed a schedule for bedtime, wake-up time, personal tasks and other things. During the holidays it is very easy for the normal routine to be thrown out the window and the child to become lost. Schedule changes affect every child, but the possibility of unwanted behavior can increase with younger and developmentally lower children. Keeping as normal a routine as possible is one of the biggest helps to maintaining smooth sailing during the holidays.


Cookies, cakes and candies abound during the Christmas season! But it is not just increased sugar intake we need to worry about, but the overall diet. Just as with schedules, we tend to have pretty set diets. If you think about your food intake over the past month, it was probably pretty much the same thing repeated. During holiday times our diet can be completely thrown out of kilter as we eat food prepared differently by other people as well as food we may never normally eat like cranberry sauce and fruitcake. You may not be able to set the menu for Christmas dinner, but try to keep as many meals as possible similar to your current menu.

If your child has allergies or is a picky eater feel free to take a meal with you to celebrations and gatherings for them to eat.


Ah yes, we’ve all met the outspoken, scared-of-nothing child, but most children become timid around strangers, including hug-loving Aunt Susie whom the child only meets once a year at the family Christmas gathering. When attending gatherings where the child may have difficulty maintaining their space, it may be beneficial for you to keep them close to you, at least for a little while after arriving so that the child can have someone for comfort close by.

Another tip is to go to the event early so that you are among the first to arrive. This way the child is not immediately being exposed to a crowd. Instead, the crowd grows slowly as people arrive thus lessening the overwhelmed feeling the child may experience otherwise.

family portrait in christmas hatsDistract

Think of a task the child can be given that will distract them from everything going on around them. Depending on your child’s age and development, you might give a task that keeps them moving like serving hor dourves or you may want to help them maintain their private space by letting them play with a favorite toy in a quiet location.

Advance Notice

Some families only see some other members during the holiday season, so it becomes a major “catching-up” time. These family members may not be aware of your child’s needs or disabilities and may not know how to act (or react). Sending out an annual family newsletter to those who will be in attendance is a great way to update them on your child’s personal needs without being obtrusive or singling out your child either. Along with other updates, you might mention things the child is interested in as a way to develop topics of conversation as well as things that bother them as a concealed warning. If certain gifts, such as those with small parts, are inappropriate for your child, you might mention some gift ideas that the child has asked for.


Some children become very fearful in new environments. You might consider going to the holiday party location the day before so that the child can acclimatize themselves. Even if you will be going to a home that is already familiar to them make an extra trip so that they see the rooms with chairs and tables re-arranged in expectation of the larger group. Better yet, you might even have the child help set-up for the party.

Watch Yourself

Holiday times can be stressful on adults too. As you become anxious your child will feed off of your stress and the result may be unwanted behavior. Try not to let the holidays bother you. Be sure to carve quiet times into your schedule and space out cooking and preparations over time so you don’t become overwhelmed yourself.


Take time to prepare your child for an upcoming event. This should be a time to let them know your expectations of them. Review the itinerary. Pull out a photo album and show the child pictures of people they will meet so they can be familiar with all those scary faces.

Secret Place

As the holidays progress your child may become increasingly more difficult to manage as he or she slowly becomes overwhelmed by the changes and events. Be proactive by creating a secret place beforehand where the child can go to calm down and have some alone time. Put some of their favorite toys, books, a mat and pillow in the spot. You might find that this therapy helps the child all year round too.


Dealing with your child at the same time as dealing with misunderstanding relatives can quickly become a nightmare. Be sure to enlist the aid of an ally to help you address unwelcome comments from other people. Often it is best to simply let their comments go like water off a duck’s back, but sometimes they need to be addressed. Rather than you having to deal with them, ask another family member or trusted friend to become a third party go between. Often if the response comes from another person the situation can often easily be diffused instead of escalating to the point where someone’s feelings may be hurt.

Smooth Sailing

We hope some of these tips will help you sail smoothly through what can be tumultuous holiday experiences for your child. Many of these tips are great for children in general who do not even have a disability. Feel free to spread the ideas around and have yourself a very merry Christmas! You can click the links at the top of this article to share on Facebook and Twitter.



  Return to the Blog Home

About the Cochran Firm Disability Lawyers
Recognized as one of the nation’s premier law firms, The Cochran Firm handles cases on behalf of clients seeking a Personal Injury Lawyer, Criminal Defense, Medical Malpractice, Bankruptcy Attorney in Atlanta or Social Security Disability Lawyer.The Firm can be reached at 1-800-THE-FIRM (1-800-843-3476) or fill out the form on this page. “Working for You.” Article by Benjamin A. Irwin, Esq.

There is no fee if you do not win your benefits!
Submit this form for a FREE evaluation.

Zip Code:
First Name:
Last Name: 
Phone Number: 
Email Address: 

By submitting your request, you grant the Cochran Firm Disability Lawyers permission to contact you using the phone and/or email address you provided. You agree that we may use an automatic telephone dialing system even if the number you provided is a wireless phone number.
These fields are present to prevent automated submission systems. If you see it, please do not fill in a value.