Supporting People with Challenging Behaviour at Christmas

James Hourihan, Author

At Christmas time, it’s easy for us to get wrapped up in all the festive cheer. However, for those in care or who live with challenging behaviour, the holiday season poses many difficulties. 

Sudden changes in daily routines, as well as unfamiliar sights, smells, sounds and crowds of people can trigger a multitude of negative emotions, leading to heightened levels of anxiety, isolation, confusion and sensory overload. 

According to AgeUK research, almost 1.5 million older people feel more lonely at Christmas than any other time, with 2021 statistics showing that around 2,000 adults and children who have learning disabilities and/or autism in the UK spent the festive period in long-term detention.

Now with rising energy prices and inflation, vulnerable people are being impacted more severely than ever before. It is important that we reach out and work together in order to help those in crisis during this special time of the year. Fortunately, there are some simple proactive strategies that healthcare staff, social care workers and families can use to make Christmas more manageable.

Here’s how to support people with challenging behaviour at Christmas. 

Stick to familiar routines 

In terms of supporting people with challenging behaviour at Christmas, consistency is key. Try to stick as closely as possible to familiar routines, including waking up at the same time each day, having meals at designated times or playing certain games they like. Doing so will make them feel safe and less overwhelmed by all of the changes that come along with the holidays. 

Put decorations up gradually 

Too much sensory input at once can be overwhelming for those with behaviour that challenges. Therefore, introduce Christmas decorations slowly in order to reduce potential stressors, while still creating an inviting atmosphere in your home or workplace. Start small by adding low-key lights and wreaths, before moving on to tinsel and trees. Additionally, consider using calming colours such as blue and green instead of bright reds or yellows. 

Get everyone involved 

Involvement increases engagement and helps build relationships between caregivers, parents, workers and the people they support. Make sure everyone takes part in festive activities such as decorating the tree, wrapping gifts, making homemade cards or singing along to classic Christmas songs. A person can associate positive feelings with these tasks and it will bring a sense of togetherness for everyone. 

Create a quiet, festive-free zone 

Sometimes all the hustle and bustle of Christmas can be too much for a person who finds it difficult to cope with change. A designated quiet room or space with no decorations or festive music playing is an excellent way to help someone relax when needed, but still close enough so that they don’t feel isolated or excluded from others. 

Be flexible 

Finally, when it comes to supporting people with challenging behaviour at Christmas, not everything may go according to plan and that’s ok! Try not to get frustrated and stay mindful of your emotions. If a particular situation isn’t working, use an empathetic approach and listen out for what they need from you. Remember, always have a plan B in place to help navigate any upcoming challenges over the festive period. 

We wish you a very positive Christmas! 

The holidays can be both exciting and stressful, however when equipped with the right knowledge and skills, you can make this Christmas a more positive experience for one and all! 

At Timian, we empower professionals in healthcare, social work and education to understand and support the unique needs of people in crisis with our BILD Act certified positive behaviour management courses. If you would like to learn more, call 0800 987 4075 for more information or fill in the form with your details, and we’ll be happy to help. 

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year! 

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