Unbabbled Episode 17: Navigating the Holidays

Navigating the Holidays

It’s 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 be a difficult season for children to navigate. However, there are a few simple strategies parents can use to take some stress out of the holidays for the whole family. 

In this episode, our hosts Meredith and Stephanie discuss a number of tried and tested tips to help parents prepare for the challenges the holiday season may bring. While these tips were provided with children who have language and social challenges in mind, they are still excellent for trying with all children.

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Stephanie:                        00:05                   Hello and welcome to Unbabbled, a podcast that navigates the world of special education, communication delays and learning differences. We are your hosts, Stephanie Landis and Meredith Krimmel and we're certified speech language pathologist who spend our days at the parish school in Houston helping children find their voices and connect with the world around them. It's already December and for many that means the start of a very busy holiday season from travel to major changes in schedules to unfamiliar your holiday traditions. This can be a bit difficult for children in this episode, Meredith and I discussed a number of tried and tested tips for parents to help their families be prepared for the challenges the holidays may bring. These tips come from our years of working with children in both preschool and elementary classrooms as well as personal experience with our own children. While these tips were provided with children with language and social challenges in mind, they're beneficial for all kids. After this episode, we'll be taking a short break, but we'll be back with new episodes of Unbabbled mid January. We hope you all have a happy and safe new year today. We have a bit of a different podcast for you. This episode is going to focus on, it's all on our tips for surviving the holidays.

Meredith:                         01:15                   Yes, important to do.

Stephanie:                        01:17                   No matter what holidays you may be celebrating, it probably includes a lot of changes in schedules, a lot of family times, a lot of different food and activities, maybe some traveling, a lot of overstimulation for everyone.

Meredith:                         01:32                   Yes, no, maybe no school, no routine.

Stephanie:                        01:35                   And we're here to try and give you some tips to help you survive and thrive during that time.

Meredith:                         01:41                   Great. So Stephanie, what would be your first tip?

Stephanie:                        01:45                   So my first tip is to sit down and make a schedule and a calendar. I know that as soon as our time starts getting busy, I make a calendar for myself, but I will also make some way for my children to count down to their exciting activities. Whether it's just a calendar that we draw by hand for ourselves, something that I've printed off from word document or some people for really young children will use paper chains that they can take a paper chain off each day as they're counting down. But some way to get organized and so that your kids have a way of getting organized in their life too.

Meredith:                         02:22                   That's a great idea. We use a, we have a school calendar for my children's school up on the refrigerator so I just write notes on it and draw pictures on it and it really does help cause then we can pull it down. We can count the days, we can look at the pictures or look at the words and really try to figure out how many sleeps until this or especially my, my children's school is closed for two full weeks over the winter break. So it's really nice to start preparing my kids for that early. And so having that visual schedule helps with that for sure.

Stephanie:                        02:50                   And we, as you mentioned before, traveling, we travel a lot to visit family and none of our family lives in town and so we will pull out. And in the past I just hand drew a calendar cause my daughter loved to draw on it with me and they weren't, not pretty. I'm not an artist. They don't need to be. And she knew that that weird shape was a school and the other one was a home and one was an airplane and she knew what the drawing is of Nana and Papa and their house and that just helped her get organized and it also gave a place to refer back to so that I wasn't asking, answering for the hundredth time of like, when do we do this and when do we do that?

Meredith:                         03:26                   Right. Yeah. My children were going on a trip to Disney right before Thanksgiving and so every day my son was like, are we going tomorrow? Are we going tomorrow? Are we going tomorrow? So that's when I took down the calendar, wrote the words, drew some arrows and that way he can just look at it. He doesn't even have to ask me anymore. It's been really nice.

Stephanie:                        03:44                   It is. And for young children and even elementary age children, sometimes they have a difficulty organizing the time in their brain and giving them some concrete. Visual is a really great way to both easy anxiety of not knowing when something's going to happen and the excitement and give them a way to get themselves organized.

Meredith:                         04:03                   Right? We're talking about things that are exciting that they might be counting down to, but this also helps if they are nervous or concerned about something coming up. Like maybe your child doesn't like to fly. Maybe the airport makes them uncomfortable. So having it on the calendar or on a schedule or some sort of visual to support with that can help. Talk about strategies while you count down to that day.

Stephanie:                        04:22                   And as we mentioned, every tip, it also put it through the lens of your own child. I have friends and family members who know that if they put it on the calendar a month in advance, it's only going to ramp up the kid's anxiety. And so they might not add it until a day or two beforehand. And then other family members and friends that know that they have to let their kids know a few weeks in advance for them to be able to process it.

Meredith:                         04:44                   Yeah, that's great advice. Every kid is so different. I definitely have a niece in my family who does not like surprises, so the more advanced notice the better. But I also do know that some kids, if they think about that trip or that activity for a month, it's going to be, it's going to be a detriment

Stephanie:                        05:00                   And along with making the schedule over November, December, January, there are a lot of school closings and adding in some things that might keep some consistency to the day into the schedule. So even just making a daily schedule for those days that are off will help your child organize their day or have something to look forward to and it might help you as a parent. So even though you might have a bunch of errands, you need to run into it too. Just giving your child that day a schedule of, okay, first we're going to have breakfast, we'll have some play time because you definitely want to get that activity level out before you go run the errands. We're going to go to this store and this store. Then we'll come back and have lunch and just as much as possible, keep some of those days consistent in their routine, giving them a snack if they're used to having a snack, they're used to having a quiet reading time, building the quiet reading time or a nap time. Just as much consistency and letting them know how their day's going to go and look like during those days off is helpful as well.

Meredith:                         05:56                   Okay. That's great advice. I think keeping some sort of routine is important and to go along with that. You talked about running errands and things. I'm trying really hard not to overbook yourself during the holidays or when the kids are off school. You know overbooking can lead to meltdowns and really difficult evenings and afternoons, so trying to limit, for instance if you need, don't try to get all your holiday shopping done on one trip. Maybe maybe spread it out over a few days but just try not to overbook. Of course the stuff is so much easier said than done during the holidays. Your families are planning things and you want to be with everybody and you want to do a lot of things with trying to be really conscious of that is important as well.

Stephanie:                        06:34                   One of the things that I often encourage parents to do is when they are getting ready for big family events, family gatherings around the holidays is to one front load their child of what's going to be expected at this event. If it's say Thanksgiving which is coming up, let them know that there's going to be dinner and that there's going to be foods and then have a plan for them. It will be expected that all of these different foods that we don't normally eat are going to be here. Let's make a plan that we try maybe the Turkey and we'll bring our own green beans or eat the roll and we'll bring some Mac and cheese or you know, make a plan for your child so that they know what's going to be expected and they know that there's there something that they can eat or do and along with that plan, have somewhere built in for them to go ahead of time. Maybe a code word or if your child is young, watching them to see when they've hit that max of new people overstimulation. They're starting to get a little bit wound up and knowing your mind where you can go to go calm them down and what calms them down.

Stephanie:                        07:34                   I know for me with my kids, I can pull them into a room and if we listen to quiet music or read a book that they really like in a calm room, then that little bit of a reset can get them back to that. They're at a place where they can go be with family and this is for all children. Get overstimulated by this and having a plan in your mind of how you're going to step back and get them calm and let them reset and maybe deescalate that sensory over regulation will lead to fewer meltdowns.

Meredith:                         08:02                   Yeah, that's great. I think just as important as preparing your child and front loading your child. Also maybe talking with your family members about your child, what they can expect, what your child can really handle. I think sometimes our, our extended family members, they don't live with our children every day, so they might think it's feasible to do all these activities on one day or do something that might be hard for your child, so really front loading your child, but also front loading your extended family as well.

Stephanie:                        08:27                   And having your own reasonable expectations. I know last year for Thanksgiving I sat down and I was like, okay, my kid's not going to eat today. They're not. They are visiting family that they haven't visited in a long time. There's a mass amounts of food. We don't always eat these foods on a regular basis. They might be new to them, and so if they eat just a little bit and they refuse food, then I'm fine with today being the day that I'm like, okay, after it's calmed down, we'll go back and have a peanut butter sandwich or we'll go back and have some carrots or some crackers or whatever it is so that they get a little bit of food in them. But you know, I'm going to enjoy the holiday and give myself permission to let it go on this day. Otherwise they're gonna get upset because they're hungry and forced to eat weird food and then I'm going to get upset and then we're all going to get flustered because it's in front of family and then nobody's going to have a good time.

Meredith:                         09:19                   Right, right. You mentioned about kids getting overstimulated. If you know your child struggles with crowds or is easily overstimulated. A lot of places, especially a city like Houston has sensory friendly activities. So if you do go see Santa, if that's something that you do over the holidays, you could look for a sensory friendly Santa visit or you could find a small gathering in your neighborhood that has a Santa visit or something like that. So I think it's also important to use your resources in the neighborhood.

Stephanie:                        09:48                   Yeah. They also have some of the big concerts events plays. Often we'll have a sensory friendly day where they maybe leave the lights on and the band might play a little more quietly and it's a little more expected for you to be able to get up and move around instead of sitting there quietly. So it's really great to be in a city that has these accommodations. So you still can feel like as a family you can participate in these traditions while setting yourself and your family up for success.

Meredith:                         10:15                   Absolutely. Another thing is we talk about all these activities that might have been traditions for us as kids and that we'd like to carry on with our kids, but also remembering just really meeting our children where they are developmentally. So just because your child is one is chronologically at a certain age doesn't mean that the activities for that age are appropriate or something that they would enjoy. So really meeting your child where they are and doing developmentally appropriate activities with them.

Stephanie:                        10:44                   Yeah, that is a really great tip. And knowing your child, again like your child might be a type of a child that can go off schedule for three events and might be okay that they stay up late to go on the family adventure or stay up late to go to the zoo to see the lights or maybe your child really does need that, that consistency and routine and sleep just for everyone and it's hard, but you gotta be okay with it.

Speaker 1:                        11:12                   Yeah, just important to know your child and then meet your child where they are for sure. We've talked about front loading kids a few times. I just want to get a little bit more explicit about what that might look like. Yeah. It depends on the event. A lot of people will use social stories to front load their child where they just sit down and draw pictures and write a story or there are many places online that you can go and find social stories that are already written. For me, I prefer to try and hand draw them with my child because that way my child is actively engaged in the process, but it just specifically tells them what's going to happen during this event. We're going to go to an airport where you haven't been before. We're going to go through the security line. We're getting in an airplane.

Stephanie:                        11:56                   It's expected that we have to wear our seatbelts, but it's okay because while we're on the airplane, we'll get to watch this movie or play with the iPad or read these books. Then we can't get up and run around while we're on the airplane. We have to sit down and just telling them as specifically as possible what it looks like. Same thing with a family tradition. Maybe you go to a special service that you don't typically go to with your child, letting them know what that service is going to look like, the place you're going to be at, the people who will be there and what exactly you want them to do during that service, whether it's okay for them to move around and play or if they have to sit and be still and be quiet and just letting them know so that you're not in a situation where they're like, so this is totally unfamiliar and I'm feeling really anxious. And then it just makes it 10 times harder to get through.

Meredith:                         12:42                   And sometimes if you're attending those services, sitting in the back or sitting near the door, there's a swift exit in case things don't go well. Um, and kind of letting yourself, giving yourself some, some grace with that and just letting your child be who they are and being able to support them in those moments. That's important. Just not only taking care of our children during these holidays, but taking care of ourselves and giving ourselves a pass. If things are hard, that's okay. Um, we're all off schedule and maybe running on less sleep than normal and eating different foods and maybe even in a different state or city. So just giving yourself a pass on that and being flexible in situations is important as well.

Stephanie:                        13:21                   And setting expectations goes as you said with families too and letting your extended family know and maybe it goes to um, holiday gift giving and you can set an expectation of like, you know, this is where we're at, this is the toys that they like. It might be different from what other children their age are into, but this is what we would like or the opposite. Like we don't want these specific types of toys for this, that or those reasons. And just being really clear with people and setting expectations and boundaries. With front loading, one of the things that you can do is practice. So if you're going to go see Santa for the first time, you can practice. I mean, you don't have to dress up in a Santa suit. You could if you want, you could show pictures, you could practice going up and sitting down and practice telling Santa what you want, have them bring a list. If you go to a specific service and there are certain things that you need to do there you could practice. If you are going to a special dinner or out to a specific restaurant, you could practice at your home. Like this is what it looks like and we're going to do these things. We were just discussing that previously for Halloween, we practice trick-or-treating with our kids, practicing, knocking on the door, putting on costumes, saying trick or treat saying thank you. Those same things can happen if you're going to other activities throughout the holidays is practice will really reinforce those behaviors that you want them to have in their mind.

Meredith:                         14:45                   Yeah. Role playing. Very important for um, trying something new or doing a new activity that they might not, the expectations and maybe you know, you do something front loading with a social story or you do pictures to help support. But then if you also role play, they can also have an opportunity to utilize those skills and practice those skills before the actual event.

Stephanie:                        15:04                   We went caroling with a bunch of friends and family members last year and it was totally different, but we practiced singing some of the songs and we practiced, you know that we had to, we were going to be walking from neighbor's house to neighbor's house and so with my young children I was like, it is important that you stay with me because it's going to start getting dark and I don't want you to run away. So we practiced like singing near each other and in a group. So that's just one example of things that might be a little different that your child could be a little confused on. And even just practicing, like taking your shoes off or putting your bags up on a conveyor belt to pretend go through an airport. You can set up a little airport with chairs and cushions and other things, a little airplane and you can practice having them get on the plane and sit down and the flight attendant walking through. And saying like fasten your seatbelts, here's where all the safety information is and kids love to role play being pilots and going on and off the plane and the more that they get used to it, the more they feel comfortable and can get through it and have a fun experience.

Meredith:                         16:10                   And a lot of this, it works really well for little kids and role playing might not be something you would do with your older children but the same strategies apply just talking about the expectations and maybe not role playing activity but a practice saying the words practice the language that goes along with it.

Stephanie:                        16:28                   And be very clear with them and you can ask them like what are your expectations for this activity? What do you feel? How will you feel good about this activity? Because sometimes even with older kids, they already have a mental picture and expectation in their head and they didn't go that way and they might have a fallout and we're not sure why, but it's because we didn't talk about expectations or even what they thought was going to happen.

Meredith:                         16:52                   I have a family friend who they, their tradition is to go into a really specific neighborhood to walk around and look at the lights. And they had a child who really struggled with that and they did it for about two years and it just wasn't fun for anybody. And so they adjusted their tradition and now they drive through a different neighborhood. They stay in the car. Uh, there is something about being on foot in the crowds, walking and seeing all these lights that was over stimulating for their child, but now that they do it in the car, it's enjoyable for everybody. So again, being flexible and adjusting your plans to, to really meet your child where they are.

Stephanie:                        17:28                   That's a really great idea. I wouldn't have thought of that.

Meredith:                         17:32                   We drive around and look at Christmas lights cause I don't like to walk and like do the Christmas lights. I find I don't really particularly do well in crowds myself. So we, we like to drive around and look at Christmas lights.

Stephanie:                        17:42                   Yeah, that's another great way to just modify and still be able to do the traditions that you like. But in a way that for your family. One of the things I think I've said in almost every episode is to make sure that your managing your level of stress and giving yourself grace to know that you, everything doesn't have to be quote unquote perfect. And that what works for some people's families for holidays and traditions might not work for yours. And to set your own path and what works for your family best and that'll lead to the most happiness for everyone.

Meredith:                         18:17                   Yeah, that's, that's really good advice.

Stephanie:                        18:20                   Any other advice that you have for families?

Meredith:                         18:22                   Um, I think we hit all my big ones. What about you?

Stephanie:                        18:25                   I, you know, I'm sitting here trying to remember things that I've told other parents and remind myself a lot of these things. Yeah, exactly. Not having to go to every activity that you're invited to. Maybe this only works for my family, but making sure that your kids eat before evening activities. Oh yeah. My kids get really hangry. And so I will be the person that's pulling snacks upon snacks out or eating at 5:00 PM before we have to go to a 6:00 PM family dinner. Or even a 6:00 PM fun holiday, cookie decorating or whatever event that it might be that I know that like setting my child up for the most success means like getting them some play time before we go to get their energy out and making sure that they're well fed.

Meredith:                         19:13                   Yeah, that's actually really good advice. I feed my children before we go to later dinners and later activities. Even a food will be provided because I know my children are unlikely to eat in a very busy, exciting environment, so feeding them beforehand and I have less stress, Oh my gosh, I didn't have dinner tonight. We haven't eaten, they haven't eaten, and then they have more fun because their bellies are full and they're not, you know, hangry and throwing big tantrums. So that's really actually really great advice and snacks, always having snacks. I love that you said that. That's so important. Especially when you're traveling, being on the airplane. A snack is like the cure-all. Just pull snacks, more snacks, more snacks. It always works.

Stephanie:                        19:50                   And if you have that child that is a little bit of a pickier eating eater or does it eat in overexcited places. Having a snack on the side is a way to make sure that they have something that they can eat and then you're all feeling good and happy.

Meredith:                         20:04                   I think we covered everything. I just hope that everybody has a happy and stress free holiday season.

Stephanie:                        20:10                   And if you're listening and you have any more tips that we forgot, feel free to reach out to us on social media or shoot us an email and we'll share them with everyone.

Meredith:                         20:18                   Yeah, that's great. All right, happy holidays everyone. Thank you for listening to the Unbabbled podcast. After this episode, we will be taking a short break, but don't worry. We will be back with new episodes of Unbabbled in mid January. For more information on today's episode, please see our episode description. For more information on The Parish School. Visit parishschool.org if you're not already, don't forget to subscribe to the Unbabbled podcast on your app of choice, and if you like what you're, be sure to leave a rating and review a special thank you to Stig Daniels, Amy Tanner, Amanda Arnold, and Stella Limuelfor their hard work behind the scenes. Thanks again for listening. We hope you all have a happy and safe new year.