Christmas Survival Guide: Coping Strategies for Parents

Christmas Survival Guide: Coping Strategies for Parents


The holiday season is upon us, a time of joy, celebration, and a touch of chaos! In the past, we’ve shared practical tips for making the day go smoothly and unique gift ideas to bring smiles to your loved ones. This time, our focus shifts towards the unsung heroes of this season: parents. For parents of children with autism and developmental disabilities, Christmas time can bring both excitement and unique challenges. In this blog, we explore tangible coping strategies for parents, rooted in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and mindfulness, offer guidance and recommend resources.

Practical Coping Strategies for the Christmas Period

ACT is a therapeutic approach centred around acceptance, mindfulness, and commitment to values. It can provide a valuable framework for navigating the holiday season. Here are some practical examples of how to integrate these principles into the festive season.  Parenting during the Christmas period requires tailored coping strategies.  ACT includes a variety of quick-thinking strategies that individuals can use in the moment to enhance psychological flexibility and well-being. Here are some brief ACT techniques:

  • Mindful Breathing – Take a few deep breaths and focus your attention on the sensation of your breath. Notice the inhales and exhales. This helps bring your attention to the present moment.
  • Defusion Techniques – Acknowledge and detach from negative thoughts by prefixing them with “I’m having the thought that…” For example, “I’m having the thought that I can’t handle this.”
  • Observing and Describing – Observe your thoughts as if you’re an impartial observer. Describe them in a non-judgmental manner. This creates distance from the thoughts.
  • Values Clarification – Quickly reflect on your core values. Ask yourself, “What’s important to me in this situation?” This can guide your actions in alignment with your values.
  • Present Moment Awareness – Engage fully in what you are doing right now. Pay attention to the sensory experience of the moment—sights, sounds, smells. Grounding yourself in the present can reduce stress.
  • Acceptance of Emotions – Acknowledge and accept your emotions without judgement. Say to yourself, “It’s okay to feel this way.” This fosters emotional resilience.
  • Thought Labelling – Label unhelpful thoughts. For instance, if you’re thinking, “I’m a failure,” label it as a judgmental thought. This helps you distance yourself from the thought.
  • Thank You, Mind – Acknowledge your mind for producing thoughts, even if they’re challenging. Say, “Thank you, mind,” and gently redirect your focus to the present moment.
  • Choice Point – <When faced with a decision, remind yourself that you have a choice in how you respond. Ask, “Is this moving me toward or away from my values?”

Remember, these strategies are meant to be practised regularly to become more effective over time. They provide individuals with tools to respond with resilience and flexibility to challenging situations and emotions.As you navigate the unique challenges of parenting a child with autism during the festive season, remember that small, intentional actions can make a significant impact. Embrace acceptance, find joy in mindful holiday moments, and celebrate according to your family’s values.

Helpful Resources 

If you’d like some further reading or maybe a last minute gift idea, here are some of my personal recommendations:

Work Parent Thrive – by Yael Schonbrun  – Working parenthood can feel relentless, especially when your child has additional needs. The additional medical and therapy appointments, meetings, having your child when staff call in sick and helping staff when your child is having a tough time. The mental worry constantly of why your child may be having a tough time. Is there even time to work? Juggling multiple life roles is incredibly demanding but the variety can also give vitality to your life. Sometimes one role can give respite from another of your life roles. Within all the craziness of working parenthood and being a deputy for Dan, I need prompts to help myself juggle it all and this book is proving awesome. 

The Gratitude Jar AppWhen you have a child with a developmental disability everything can get harder and your mental health can suffer as a result. One thing that is shown in research to improve mental health is practising gratitude, this can seem impossible when life seems so difficult. This simple free app helps by prompting you each day to find the little things that you are grateful for and write them down. I’ve been using this personally now since January 1st and have to say the daily practice is making a difference. I now look forward to getting to the end of the day and recording the little things. It’s helping me to see, even when it has felt like a very tough day, that there have still been elements I am grateful for.

7 Days to Clarity – by Mallory Anderson-Macy – This book is awesome! This book uses Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help parents navigate their way through working with their ABA team and communicating the goals they want to work on and whether the individual programme will work for their family. This book assists with identifying your emotions and thoughts that may impact your relationships, how to recognise them and how to deal with them. It’s an easy read, but it’s a workbook; to make use of this book you have to engage and complete the exercises. Highly recommend it!

ACT with love – by Russ Harris – I highly recommend this book. It explains the basics of Acceptance and Commitment Training which comes from the science of human behaviour. It explains how certain things DRAIN the life out of relationships: Disconnection, Reactivity, Avoidance, In your mind, Neglecting Values. And how LOVE can revitalise a relationship:

Letting go, Opening up, Valuing, Engaging.

ACT Videos and Animations  – a great playlist on YouTube by Joe Oliver

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