10 Tips to Help Special Needs Families Survive and Thrive During the Holiday Season
By Joanne Giacomini
So it’s that time of year again, holiday time with parties, over eating, over drinking, staying up late. Oh wait. You have small children. Then maybe it’s only over eating and staying up late while still getting woken up early by wee ones coming into your room. Sigh. Still there’s the wonder of little eyes lit up opening presents for the first time, understanding about giving to those in need. It’s also an exciting time of the year to connect with family and friends, sit back and relax, as well as go over all the things you are grateful for. This, of course, happens once you are passed out on your sofa from all the pre-holiday baking, concerts, parties, etc. and let me tell you, when you have special needs children, this is all amplified by like TEN THOUSAND TIMES with stress, work, and the go-go engine of things to do before the BIG DAY.
Your children, who are more sensitive to changes in routine, activities, and general upheavals crash right alongside you. What can you do? I usually take up drinking a little more wine (and other alcohol that happens to be in the house when we are entertaining that time of year), but as a parent, and especially a parent of children who have more sensitivity, consuming large amounts of alcohol is not a good solution. I have found that what works for our son who has autism, can be applied to a lot of other families with special needs as well as neuro typical children alike. Without further ado, here is what I have started using:
10 Tips to Help Special Needs Family Survive And Thrive In The Holiday Season:
1) Expect meltdowns and anxiety from your child: No, this is not me being a downer. This is me being realistic. Call it eight years of experience, call it the extra sugar, activities and change in scheduling that affects us all. Our children feel it tenfold. So plan on techniques for stress reduction in advance: having squeeze toys available, sensory massages (for them, not you, though a Mommy massage, if possible, is GREAT!) J, time to let loose physically either with playing outside or in the basement with kicking a ball, etc.
2) Limit audio visual time and NONE two hours before bed. My eight-year-old son with autism always says, “I won’t get overstimulated, Mommy,” the few times we’ve let him watch a video on the phone or television. Moms and Dads, HE ALWAYS DOES and then the fights happen at bedtime. This time of year it’s even more important to try and keep the bedtime routine whenever possible.
3) Write out A Social Story for visiting with family or when they visit your home. I did the former, but last year forgot to do the latter. We had a child melting down continuously with my entire family in the house. I had maybe five minutes of time to talk to people when I wasn’t bringing my son to his room to calm down. This year, I will go over in advance what he can do, and what will be happening if we host.
4) Have a “calm corner” or down time place for your child to retreat to, wherever you are. This is invaluable in helping them cope with overstimulation in the form of noise, heat, smells, etc.
5) Keep, as much as possible, to their sleeping and waking times. If there are unavoidable interruptions to that, allow for an afternoon or two at home where they (and you) can chill out. What to do if they don’t like to stay home like mine? Have some alternatives. You can try sledding, skating, breakfast out EARLY in restaurants, before the crowds, or pop some popcorn and put in a movie early in the day.
6) When possible, see if you can schedule a play date or two with friends during the day to keep them busy. I ask well in advance of the holidays who is available and go from there.
7) Early New Year’s Eve parties at home. We’ve gravitated to these since my son has been born. Early suppers with close friends who leave with their little ones by 8:00 pm is perfect for our exhausted bodies and minds. As we put our son to bed, hubby and I have 2 or 3 hours to watch a movie, pop the bubbly at midnight, and turn in to bed. That way, we’re not too pooped for the New Year’s Day festivities at my in-laws house the next day.
8) Cook in advance so you have leftovers and can use the time in between Christmas and New Year’s Day to veg out. This is a tough one, but well worth it if you can manage it. Then it’s just defrost and serve that week, no fuss, no muss.
9) Make a schedule of activities and events with your child before they are on holiday. It’s also a good idea to prepare them that you will not schedule all the days with ‘stuff’. This is one I’m starting to do to teach more spontaneity in our days. This is where KidsOutAndAbout can help you plan your day-by-day activities!
10) Take care of yourselves, Moms and Dads. As hard as it is, get out on your own if you need to breathe. Go for a walk, to a bookstore, out for coffee with a friend, have a glass of wine and relax. J And remember, you will survive if you keep your sense of humor.
© 2015, KidsOutAndAbout.com
Joanne Giacomini is a writer, editor and blogger of “Exceptional Mom/Exceptional Child” at www.exceptionalmomchild.wordpress.com, where she blogs about how her son with autism is raising her! She also blogs about parenting and autism at Huff Post Parents Canada, Wise Women Canada, and Mummies List. She has had her parenting articles and blogs published on The West Island Blog and Oh Baby Magazine, and offers writing, editing, and blogging services to businesses.