Christmas is coming and the parents are getting stressed!

Christmas photo of Aberdeen St Andrew's Children's Society staff members

Christmas can be such a hard time for adopted and fostered children who have experienced trauma, apart from the trigger memories of Christmases past,  all the changes in routines at school and home, more visits with family and friends and busy mums and dads can overload them and make them anxious, and we all know anxious kids equals difficult behaviour and stressful times.

Here are some tried and tested tips to help get through the festive season.

Timetable Christmas child's timetable to fill in

In the weeks around Christmas, try and keep some routines the same, for example, breakfast and bedtimes. Have a timetable of what’s happening when, so you and your child can go over it as often as necessary, use pictures if that helps them process information.

Sometimes a timetable helps the adults as much as the kids as you can break the day down into manageable chunks and put in activities such as watching a Christmas movie that might also give you a bit of a break too.

Christmas dinner

Forget it!! Don’t spend the day slaving in the kitchen cooking a complex meal for children who will often be too excited and hyper to sit still long enough to eat it. Make something they like and can be eaten in a relaxed way. The ritual of a full Christmas meal may well be new to your child and to them it can be stressful following the unwritten rules, when do you pull the cracker, why do they bang and make sudden unexpected noises, why is dad telling such bad jokes, how long do I have to sit here? Pizza box with the word pizza on the front

Some takeaways are open on Christmas day, or a nice pizza will please the children and you can always do a nice dinner for the grown-ups on a less busy day.

Family and friends

Christmas and New Year usually means lots of visitors and a level of chaos or change in the home leading to hyper dysregulated children. It is best to think about how to help your child feel safe and relaxed.

Always let your child know who is visiting or who you are visiting beforehand. Have a calming activity set up such as colouring books, reading material, whatever you know helps your child and explain beforehand that this is something they can do whenever they want during the visit. If you know your visitors are the playful, slightly boisterous type who will leave you scraping your child off the ceiling, then ask them to read a story or do a quieter activity with the child and if you feel able, ask them in advance if they could do this.

Have a clear arriving and leaving time for visits and visitors or even better arrange to meet up for a walk or visit to swing parks etc.

Your child might well have been trying really hard during the visit to self-regulate and “be good for granny” so if you can plan for some outdoor time to let them let off steam right afterwards this may help them settle again.

Christmas presents

Many children are overwhelmed by too many gifts and quite a few feel so badly about themselves that they don’t believe they deserve any presents. If you have a child that finds it hard to accept compliments and praise, they will probably find receiving gifts difficult. These are the children who will ignore the special gift they have been saying they want since July or they may even feel so strongly that they are not good enough that they will destroy the present. Christmas presents in boxes with a gold ribbon

There is no law that says thou shalt open all your presents on Christmas morning and it often works better if the whole process is slowed down and split in several sessions, even over a few days.

If you have siblings, be ready for sibling rivalry and if each child can have an adult to help them stay focussed on their own gifts rather than their sibling’s this can help and it’s another excuse not to be slaving away in the kitchen!


You probably won’t get much time to yourself over Christmas so when you do get some down time, make the most of it, forget the hoovering and ironing and plan some relaxing time, savour and be present in these moments, even if you are just blobbing on the sofa in an exhausted heap, take time to appreciate the peace and quiet, light a smelly candle and get out the cheese and biscuits. You have truly earned it.


If you would like to find out more about adopting or fostering a child through St Andrew’s Children’s Society please call 0131 454 3370 or email


Shiona Freeman

Senior Practitioner