Navigating the HolidaysTuesday November 28, 2017
The calendar will soon turn to December and for many that means the start of a very busy holiday season. From travel, to major changes in schedules, to unfamiliar holiday traditions, this can also be a difficult season for children, too. However, there are a few simple ways parents can help take some stress out of the holidays for the whole family.
1. Create a visual schedule and discuss it with your child prior to any large trips or changes in their daily schedule. Even seemingly simple changes, like Grandma coming to town for a few days, can be large changes to your child. Add in two weeks off from school and therapy, and you have a recipe for meltdowns. Having a visual schedule gives your child concrete information on what changes to expect, when to expect it and how long the change will last. This calendar can be as simple as hand-drawing a few pictures on a piece of paper for the younger children or writing out a detailed daily schedule for older children.
2. Front-load expectations for success. For many children, navigating unfamiliar events like a large family dinner, special religious holidays or trips on a plane, bring multiple unknowns. If your child demonstrates difficulty reading new social situations for the “hidden rules,” it is highly beneficial to discuss the specific expected behaviors and even a few unexpected behaviors prior to the events. For example, at the extended family holiday dinner, it is expected that we say hello to family members, eat at the table, use a fork, and eat a few preferred foods. It is unexpected to run around the table, spit your food out and only talk about trains. Having visuals is also very beneficial for most children (drawn out pictures for younger children and words for older children).
3. Schedule sensory activities to help regulate your child. Schedule in wiggle breaks when going on long road trips. Go to the park before getting in the car. Arrive at the airport early and find a less crowded area to run/jump/climb. If your child becomes disregulated by large groups of people, schedule quiet time prior to the big family gathering and possibly during the gathering, too. Find a room with soft lighting, play quiet calming music and provide calming sensory input (for some children this is deep pressure while for others this is light, soft touches). Your child may also benefit from the use of a lap buddy, like a sock filled with beans, to provide deep pressure to keep them regulated. An added bonus of scheduling some time to regulate your child is that you can also join their activity to keep yourself regulated, too!
4. Be sure to take care of yourself so you are able to model the behaviors and emotions you want your child to exhibit. The holidays can be stressful and verwhelming for adults, too. If you are feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed, or find yourself becoming short tempered or easily frustrated, your child will see and feel these emotions. It is unreasonable to ask our children to stay calm, regulated and use their best manners if the adults are not doing the same. Be sure to take deep breaths and schedule time to take care of your needs, too!
Hopefully these simple steps can help your family keep the happy in your holidays!