Staying with relatives at Christmas

Christmas Day in our house is a fairly straightforward affair. We tend to spend the day at home with one of the grandparents, perhaps a great grandparent, and an uncle visiting for Christmas dinner. We’re in our own home and we’re in control.

We have two children, age six and four, with global developmental delay and hypermobility. The eldest has just been diagnosed with autism. The kids can open their presents at their own pace, our four-year-old will play with his new toys and we will spend a large chunk of the day failing to encourage his six-year-old brother to engage with his new gifts. Standard.

However, when Boxing Day arrives we pack up to spend a couple of days with the other side of the family. This side of the family is huge. There are lots of parties and many people who want to see the kids over the two days. In short, it’s a sensory overload and the kids are exhausted by the time they get home.

They love spending time with lots of aunties and uncles but it’s also a fine balancing act to ensure they don’t get too overwhelmed. Christmas can disrupt routines at the best of times but when kids with additional needs are sleeping in different beds, staying in different houses can prove quite stressful.

Dropping in to see relatives for a few hours over the Christmas period can be easier than staying overnight if they don’t live too far away. However, often this isn’t practical for many families.

If you find yourself travelling between relatives during the festive season, here are a few ideas that I find make it a bit easier:

Plan, plan, plan

Plan visits to family or friends well in advance. This makes it easier to prepare everyone for what’s to come – you, the kids, and the relatives!

Visual timetable

If, like me, you have a child who needs to know what and when they are doing at all times, you might want to consider putting together a visual timetable or a ‘now and next’ board to help reduce anxiety when you’re away. This helps to add a little routine during a time when there is less structure.


Are your kids picky eaters? Will eating pasta for their Christmas dinner help to reduce anxiety and avoid a meltdown while you’re away? Then just do it. Talk to the host before you travel to discuss dietary requirements so they don’t get offended. It’ll help ease your stress of being away and avoid a Christmas dinner meltdown when you’re pleading with them to eat turkey and sprouts. Also pack some of their favourite foods – maybe they prefer a certain type of cereal – to create some consistency while you’re away.

Take earplugs/defenders

If they are sensitive to noise, you might need to consider popping a pair of ear defenders or ear plugs in your bag. If there are a lot of people for dinner on Christmas Day or you’re going to a party, reducing background noise can reduce stress levels.


This is a tricky one for many reasons whether you’re at home or away. Does your child hate surprises? Explain this to relatives and make some suggestions within their budget. This year my two are all about Paw Patrol so that is forming the bulk of their Christmas presents. If they can’t hide their disappointment when they get a present they don’t like, practise in advance how to say thank you for presents, even if they’re not what they wanted. If too many presents could be overwhelming, limit presents or introduce them one by one instead of all at once. You could also stagger them over several days.

Find a quiet space

It’s hard work for an autistic child to be sociable all day. Ensure they have a place to escape to when they need to. Make sure they know where it is or how to ask for it. Having a space to recharge their batteries during the day can be the difference between a great day and a horrendous day.

These tips come courtesy of Lizzie at A Curious Journey. She blogs about travel, trips and days out and how to get the most out of them when your children have additional needs. Check her out on Twitter and Facebook too.

How are you preparing your family for the Christmas break this year? If you have any tips you would like to share, you can email or tweet us and we’ll publish them.