Christmas planning ideas

Article source: The Adopt South West Co-Production Group

We share some great ideas here for planning Christmas and making memories; including making a Christmas book of photos to have a visual record of Christmas past; not having a Christmas meal on the day; taking your time focusing on you and the family; keeping things in routine.

For some traumatised children, however, this can be too much, leaving them feeling vulnerable, or even reminding them of bad Christmases they may have experienced in the past. Here are some ways to keep the festive season fun and stress free for you and for them.

This is a really great short video here from an adopted Dad who talks about how he ‘manages Christmas without a Christmas dinner!

Christmas Tips from Stephen Hinson-King from Adoption Matters on Vimeo.

‘Adoption Matters’ provide valuable ideas and thoughts on how to support a gentle but 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).

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. It is your choice for your child not be included in this as the school can make reasonable adjustments for needs.
  • Think about the sensory overload that comes with Christmas and potential for triggers to difficult times in the past.

Watch this great video from an adopted parent at Adoption Matters:


  • 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 and after the big day….

  • Children might 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.
  • Try and find time for you!