Christmas is coming and the Compass Team elves have teamed up with parent carers in Brighton and Hove and West Sussex to put together a few top tips to help your festivities run smoothly… If you want to add your own tips, just scroll down to the bottom of the page and log in with your Facebook, Google or Twitter account.

Now, breathe…

First, take a big deep breath and recognise the brilliant job you’re doing. Don’t over-stretch yourself; sometimes less is more and the simple things work best.

Diver under water with scuba equipment

“Have fun – what we consider fun isn’t always the same as everyone else’s fun but I find it important to focus on our achievements. Know [your] limits – my son’s achievements and ability to cope with change/certain situations is not the same as my friends’ [children]. I like to remember that we may not be able to join in with other activities his friends might be doing as he will find them too much, but that doesn’t matter because it is about him and his happiness, no matter how hard it is to not be included often.

“And always remember – we are doing the best we can, as long as our children are happy and safe it doesn’t matter. The festivities will be a challenge for many SEN parents, but our children come first and we are all fighting battles most cannot relate too, so give yourself a break, enjoy them- within our own limitations, take joy in the little moments”. (Aneliese)

“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Remember you are not alone and we are all in this together …keep your chin up!” (Lindsey)

Plan, plan, plan…

Easier said than done, we know, but a little bit of planning can go a long way.

“[I prepare] myself and my son about the festivities, talk about what is going on, share pictures, and get him involved as much as he can”. (Aneliese)

“Make a plan for each day, even just a trip to the park or a messy play activity”. (Lindsey)

Close up of hand writing.“Plan, plan, plan!! Have an idea of things you could do over the holidays and places to go before the kids break up. Then even if you don’t do them you won’t be scratching your head panicking about where to go.” (Marie)

“Activity advent calendar! This is my kids favourite! We have a different activity for each day …small things from wearing Christmas socks or making hot chocolate to big things like seeing Father Christmas or a Christmas party with friends!” (Samantha)

“We’ve asked each [of our children] to make a list of an ideal Xmas for them personally. Here is my boys’ list:

1. 3 bottles of Shloer
2. No visitors
3. Ice cream
4. Family game of monopoly
5. Time alone in room

“Simple requests that we can accommodate and everyone is happy!” ( Louise)

“Use a visual planner for the week if there are lots of changes – we use a chalkboard. Have a sensory bag available – ear defenders, sun glasses, sensory toys, favourite snack/drink (how many times have I been somewhere mine won’t eat what is on offer but then get upset they’re left out!)”. (Rosemary)

“Don’t panic about present buying, children and young people with SEND can be difficult to buy for. Consider things like an annual pass to an attraction, a personalised book (which you can buy online), or make your own sensory bag. Make sure you’ve stocked up on your child or young person’s medications in plenty of time and be aware of local pharmacies opening over the holidays. Make sure you’ve got plenty of things like nappies, pads, portable oxygen, feeding equipment, feeds etc – many of these won’t be available over Christmas”. (Marie)

Elf tips:

Stock up with DVDs and audio books. Get down to your local library before the holidays and stock up with DVDs and audiobooks – you can borrow them for free with a Compass Card. Audio books are great for some sofa time, or for a long journey if you’re travelling over Christmas. West Sussex libraries also loan communication devices for free to Compass Card holders – find out more here 

If your family loves music and a sing-a-long… There’s a special Christmas deal on annual membership with Go Kids Music Club, the subscription-based online music club led by musician and Compass Card parent, Al Start. The club’s aimed at primary age children with and without disabilities. If you join before Christmas Day and sign up for a year at £66 including VAT, you get an extra month’s membership and tee-shirt and CD to wrap up on the day. Compass Card holders also get two free digital music albums when they register. Each week, you build up your collection of songs, get a fun video of Al singing and signing an original song and you can download the music and lyrics. Each month, you can brush up on your Makaton with a themed kids’ signing video. For full details, see our free Compass Card app – search ‘compass card’ in the App Store or Google Play and download the Brighton and Hove or West Sussex version, or head to the offers page. For more information about Go Kid Music Club, visit

Make your own family of ‘stress balls’. Who knew it was so damn easy to make your own customised stress balls?! This could be a simple craft activity for the holidays, you could make one or two as stocking fillers, or you can squeeze the life out of them when things get tough… The idea comes courtesy of an organisation called Sensory Spectacle that raises awareness about Sensory Processing Difficulties and you’ll find the instructions here

The day itself

Here’s a great tip for kids who don’t like Christmas surprises:

“In previous years we discovered that my 13 year son who has [high functioning] Autism absolutely hates surprises and used to suffer high anxiety over stressing about what was to come (eg. unexpected visitors, mystery gifts and more). So we started putting labels on his wrapped gifts which showed what was inside (this greatly reduced his anxiety).” (Louise)

Christmas stockings hanging on the fireplace.

“Opening stockings at the crack of dawn gives the children something to do whilst waiting for parents to get up and slightly prepped for the day. [I also lay] out chocolate coins and tree chocolates for the children to find.

“Once all are fed breakfast, go for the tree presents to keep the children amused even more. [Give] family games as presents to allow computer-fixated children a chance to join in. Do not serve lunch later than 1.30pm as children get crabby and parents end up in the kitchen for far too long”. (Tina)

“Don’t open all the presents on Christmas day if it’s becoming overwhelming – keep some back to have one a day over the holidays.” (Marie)

“Keep a routine. Have calm activities planned that you normally do to escape the chaos, eg walking the dogs! Don’t force them to open everything straight away, if it takes several days it doesn’t matter! Tidy up as much as you can, remove clutter. Keep an area for your child to escape, my son loves the Ikea spinning egg chair and pulls the hood down if it gets too much. Limit visitors, if they come, send them out for a bit so your child can have some peace!” (Mel).

“We visit family at Christmas, which spreads the caring load. We have given a lot of thought to how to keep it as stress free as possible, and make sure we spend time with people who understand and support our family, and who will give us a bit of respite.” ( Diana)

“My 16 year old daughter puts out her ‘stocking’ on her bed on Christmas Eve. ‘Santa’ fills it later, but it stays in my bedroom until 7am on Christmas morning! This prevents my daughter starting her day at 3.30 to 4am on Christmas morning and not going back to sleep.” (Susan)

Elf tips:

There are lots of leisure venues that are open for most of the holiday period, but you’ll be hard pushed to find places that are open on the day itself. One of the few, Planet Ice’s Christmas Day ice skating is already sold out – so our best advice is to stick to walks, family games and the sofa!

By the time Boxing Day arrives, you’ll find a good smattering of venues open – including Sea Life Brighton, The Capitol cinema in Horsham, The Odeon in Brighton, the Duke’s @ Komedia in Brighton, Planet Ice in Gosport, Chichester Festival Theatre, Brighton Dome, Air Arena trampolining in Chichester, AMF Bowling in Worthing, Hollywood Bowl in Brighton and Crawley and MFA Bowl in Horsham and Chichester.

Enjoy yourself

“Be firm with family, if it’s best for your child or young person to be at home, don’t feel obliged to visit everyone.” (Marie)

“Online shopping: there is no way I’m taking two children anywhere near a supermarket in December! So we book online and use express stores! They always have extra deliveries so are rarely out of stock!” (Samantha)

“ …a supply of Buck’s Fizz, mulled wine, snowballs, iced topped mince pies, lots of family time all make for a happy mummy in my house on Christmas Day.” (Tina)

“Remember to sit down, relax and enjoy watching your children having fun.” (Suzanne)

“Know when to call it a day!” (Rosemary)

Escape strategies

“I take my son to Fisher Farm – things to do inside and outside, he can just run around wear himself out, there is so much to do there we never get round it all, but he loves it and it beats him being in doors all day over Christmas!” says Jenny.

Elf note: Fishers Adventure Farm Park is open over most of the holidays, but not on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Check the website  for details. Fishers is not a Compass Card Partner, but you can get free entry for a carer if you take recent proof of disability.

Elf tips:

Take a walk. If you’re going stir crazy, a trip to the local park to blow the cobwebs away can make all the difference.

In Brighton and Hove, Stanmer Park is a popular option and Stanmer Park Tea Rooms is open over the hols, apart from Christmas Day.

If you want a longer walk, there are some lovely winter walks on the Sussex Life website and some great Sussex walks on The National Trust website too.

Bosham Harbour is a picturesque destination and you’ll find Wendy’s @ Bosham open all over Christmas, apart from Christmas Day and providing Compass Card holders with a free drink with any purchase.

Catch a movie. The latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi (PG13), is on at several cinemas across Brighton and Hove and West Sussex (including the Duke of York’s Brighton) and you’ll find some cinemas open on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. At 2 hours 32 minutes, that’s almost a whole afternoon!

Cheap and very, very cheerful. We simply have to mention this one again because it’s such a great Compass Card deal and it’s suitable for wheelchair users too. Littlehampton Interactive Room, at a fiver for the whole family, really is a steal. Check it out on the Compass Card app or here . Littlehampton Leisure Centre is open during the holidays, apart from on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day. And card holders get free swimming there with a carer, so you could make a day of it.

Help and support over the festive period

• Amaze’s helpline in Brighton and Hove and East Sussex is closed from Friday 22 December and reopens on Tuesday 2 January. The number to call is 01273 772289 and the usual opening hours are 9.30am to 2.30pm Monday to Friday.
• The SEND IAS helpline in West Sussex is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 4pm, but closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Call 03302 228 555.
• Family Lives (formerly Parentline) – a parent-focused helpline run by the national charity Family Lives. Call free on 0808 800 2222. Family Lives runs from 7am till midnight most days of the year (calls from midnight to 7am are transferred to The Samaritans) – but there won’t be a service on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or New Year’s Day.
• Sussex Mental Healthline: East Sussex and Brighton and Hove – Monday to Friday 5pm to 9am, and 24 hours weekends and Bank Holidays; West Sussex – available 24 hours, seven days a week. Call 0300 5000 101. See for more info.