Your Christmas - Hints, Tips & Advice

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We thought it might be helpful to share some hints/tips/advice for adoptive families, that have been shared with us…


A different take on Christmas

  • Give yourselves time to develop your own Christmas traditions over the course of the years. Keep expectations low for your first Christmas as a family and remember that you have a lifetime of Christmases ahead of you – not everything has to be perfect the first time round.
  • Manage your expectations – it may not be the fairy tale Christmas as seen in the adverts – the tree decoration may be over stimulating, the food may be unfamiliar, they may want to watch a familiar cartoon rather than the latest production or movie.
  • Try not to feel let down or disappointed, get on and do the tree with the option for them to join in, let them eat the food they are comfortable with or watch what they want … it won’t be for ever but the most important thing is to keep everyone’s stress and anxiety low and for them to feel loved and accepted unconditionally.
  • Try to hold in mind that the children may have previous memories which obviously may come to mind for them at times in the day (and impact on their behaviour).
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The lead up…

  • Don’t feel the need to go to every Christmas party/pantomime/fair that’s available (lockdown will mean there are less of these anyway) it can be overwhelming and exhausting – maybe pick one thing a week in the lead up to Christmas and try and enjoy those.
  • The idea of Santa coming into their room or the ‘elf on the shelf’ making mischief in the house during the night may be frightening to some children – put boundaries around this – our ‘elf’ only moves around the lounge and the stocking is left downstairs.
  • Speak to school about how your child may struggle with the lack of routine and the extra pressure of being in the nativity etc.
  • Think about the sensory overload that comes with Christmas and potential for triggers to difficult times in the past.


  • Make sure gifts are ready for use and don’t need a lot of setting up and ask your families to do the same – make sure you have batteries!
  • Don’t assume your children will play with them for hours and leave you to relax.
  • Spread the giving of gifts over the day or for younger children over a number of days – so it’s not too overwhelming.
  • Having gifts on display under the tree may be difficult for some children to manage and the level of hypervigilance may become sky high – put the gifts out once they are asleep.

School holidays/after the big day

  • Our children will struggle with the lack of structure – long empty days may be great in some families but are likely to cause stress and anxiety for our children. Try and get out and about in the fresh air on those days between Christmas and New Year, do something ‘normal’ a familiar park or soft play centre.
  • Meet with other adopters who may be in the same boat and just want to celebrate having got through the main event.

Theraplay Advent Calendar

Here is a Theraplay Advent Calendar created by Mary Kennedy, Tory Kerneen and Fiona Peacock. Theraplay is about  strengthening parent-child relationships. We have included a little explanation for three of the activities included. Have fun!

There is no right or wrong way to do these activities! Just enjoy. Activities can be printed, cut up and tucked into an advent calendar that has little boxes or pockets. Or you can put them in a jar and have a daily ‘lucky dip’. The only activities that are day specific are 24 and 25.

  1. Sing Jingle Bells to each other
  2. Feed each other Christmas goodies such as mini Yule Logs or chocolate coins
  3. Create a Santa’s beard on each other using washing up liquid foam or foamy soap
  4. Practice your reindeer galloping around the room, put Rudolph noses on first using lotion (noses will glow in reaction to the cold lotion!)
  5. Have a snowball fight with cotton wool balls or newspaper balls
  6. Play beep and honk but use Christmassy sounds – turkey, sleigh bell, thud as Santa come down the chimney ….
  7. Make a set of family reindeer prints by drawing round a foot for the reindeer face and round hands for the antlers
  8. As a family make or buy a present for someone who wouldn’t otherwise have one
  9. Play fish and chips but use Ho,Ho,Ho and Merry Christmas
  10. Pull a pretend Christmas cracker – it will be really HUGE and you will have to do a lot of pulling this way and that way before it goes bang
  11. Give each other a hand massage with lotion
  12. Do a Christmas themed ‘spot the difference’ i.e. both look away, add some Christmas decoration to yourself when you turn back to each other spot what has changed
  13. Bean bag drops – but use Christmas items e.g. a carrot for Rudolph, a snowflake (make it out of whatever you have to hand)
  14. Repeat the worst Christmas cracker joke you have ever heard
  15. Wrap someone up like a Christmas present (with a blanket or sheet) and have fun unwrapping them
  16. Be Santa and his sleigh – someone is Rudolph and is on their hands and knees, someone is Santa, takes the back legs of Rudolph and wheelbarrow around the room
  17. Tell the Christmas story on someone’s back (like weather report)
  18. How many bites can you take out of a …. (mince pie, marshmallow, carrot, mini yule log)
  19. Make someone in the family into a ‘pigs in blankets’ by rolling them in a blanket and pressing firmly but gently on them
  20. Do a Christmas themed Simon Says activity
  21. Build a family hand stack Christmas tree – how high can you go?
  22. Sing a Christmas song with actions and mirror each other e.g. When Santa got Stuck Up the Chimney
  23. Shake powder or flour onto each other’s hands – does the pattern look like a snow flake?
  24. Leave a snack and a drink out for Santa and a note to say what activity you’d like to do with him
  25. Sing “We wish you a Merry Christmas” to each other.

Credit: Mary Kennedy, Tory Kerneen and Fiona Peacock November 2020

Just to explain few activities in more detail. These activities can be found in the book ‘Parenting the Theraplay Way by Viv Norris and Helen Rodwell.

No 9 Fish and chips

Adult says ‘Fish’ and the child says ‘chips’ in the same way.  Repeat with loudness and intonation and words can be adapted to ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ and the response “Merry Christmas”.

No 17 Weather report

Describe the weather and rub your child’s back or hand to match the weather . For example, “it’s a warm sunny day” could make a large circle. Other weather could include rain, wind etc.

No 20 Simon says

The child has to listen to adults’ commands and only respond to the ones with “Simon says in”. This could also be changed to “Mum” or “Dad” says.

School / Family Planner

Try our handy School/Family Holiday Planner available to download below in pdf format.  Many of our families whose children struggle with no structure during time off school have found this very useful. It’s not so rigid as having to plan specific times and has some ideas that can be changed or adapted by the family depending on their own likes and needs.

School/Family Holiday Planner Ideas


Sensory / Regulation Advice

  • If there is a special Christmas present that your child is very excited about receiving, it might be best if they receive it before Christmas day. This will help with their overall regulation as the big day approaches.  It might not be very traditional, but can help the actual celebration be a calmer experience all round.
  • For children who have sensory sensitivities, how a present smells, feels or looks might be as important to them as what the present is. For those very special presents that they have specifically asked for, it might be help if they select the exact one themselves in the shop or online, or are able to see/smell/touch/listen to the present before it is wrapped (or before it is sent to Santa to wrap and deliver).
  •  Be aware of your child’s responses to unfamiliar sensory stimuli and respond sensitively to them e.g. bright lights and decorations, Christmas musical toys and the sound of crackers being pulled, Christmas scented candles.
  • Do what you can to keep the routine similar e.g. eat at similar times, with the child in their usual place at the table, keep bedtimes similar if you can.  However, if routines have to change, the use of a “Now, Next and Later” visual timetable will help your child feel safe in the knowledge of what happy times the day will bring.  Make sure you plan plenty of “quiet time” with less excitement to help with overall regulation.
  • Consider having your child open their presents in a calm moment at home, rather than in front of the gift giver. You might want to spread it out over the day or even more than 1 day.
  • Encourage your child to wear what they are comfortable in, eat food they like and is familiar to them and do the familiar things that make them feel relaxed and comfortable. New pyjamas, hats from crackers and special Christmas outfits are only fun if you like wearing them.
  • If you can, prepare for Christmas early. A calm adult can help to calm an overexcited child and this is more easily done if you feel organised yourself.





Things to do together...

  • Make a Christmas pudding together and each take a turn to stir it (Stir up Sunday tradition), making a wish/saying a prayer. Sometimes saying it out loud is helpful as it leads to discussions.
  • Decorate a Christmas cake together. Buy one if there is no time to make one but decorate it together with little figures made from icing of all the family members.
  • Make 2021 calendars with handprints or photos from your last year – for relatives and friends and one for the family.
  • Take a photo of all the family sitting under the Christmas tree and frame as gifts or use it as an electronic Christmas card.
  • Make stockings with the children’s names on or buy them and decorate yourself.
  • Bring out a few presents every day rather than having them all on Christmas Day – or open for 30 mins and then take a few hours break throughout the day so the children are not overloaded.
  • Consider giving the children some of their presents already unwrapped and assembled before Christmas. Always assemble and fill with batteries before giving as this can be stressful otherwise for the parents!
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Adoptive Grandparents and Christmas

  • Christmas is primarily for the children and parents
  • Try not to have high expectations of how the children will behave – especially when it comes to opening presents
  • Be as supportive as possible and help the family to enjoy their day
  • Try to keep in the background and help the parents when necessary
  • Be prepared for a noisy and challenging day, particularly if it’s the children’s first real Christmas!
  • It’s a good idea to have no expectations – just enjoy whatever happens!
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