With the holidays just around the corner, I thought it appropriate to tackle this topic early enough to give you time to prepare. Besides, you can’t be on Pinterest these days without coming across ideas for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year. While it gives me the warm and fuzzies to think about the holidays approaching, the truth is, the holidays have only been more difficult for us since the birth of our son.
If planning for another holiday season gives you heart palpitations rather than the warm and fuzzies, you may find the tips in this post helpful.
Why the holidays may be a challenge with and for children with special needs
- Children with sensory sensitivities may find the sights, sounds and smells of the holidays too much to take in at once.
- Some children may find crowds (and the loud noises that come with them) overwhelming and may either withdraw or have a meltdown.
- Some children find a change in their daily routine and sleep schedule difficult to overcome, and may become fussy or have a meltdown.
- For a child with motor delays, you may need to carry a ton of equipment with you to make his visit in another home comfortable for all involved.
- For a child with feeding difficulties, you may be required to bring a meal (or two) specifically for your child (along with all feeding tools).
- Children who are more introverted or those who struggle with social skills may find being in a large social group difficult to manage.
Suggestions for celebrating the holidays in peace
- Prepare yourself. You know your child and your family situation better than anyone else. How realistic is it to spend several consecutive days surrounded by many different people in many different settings? Can your child handle all of that change in his routine? Can you? Decide what you can handle, what you can’t and take a stand, as a family, in your decision. Don’t worry about hurting other people’s feelings at this point. You don’t want holiday burn-out to take over just because you wanted to please everybody else. “Everybody else” isn’t living your daily reality.
- Prepare your family and friends. Once you’ve decide the most realistic way for your family to celebrate the holidays, gently let your family and friends know. They might be disappointed at first, but you can use phrases such as: “We’ve decided as a family that it will be too much for us to celebrate two consecutive days.” Then, ask if they can possibly change the date, or just go on without you. You won’t mind. Really. There are 365 days in the year. You don’t have to feel pressured to fit everything in during the 2-week holiday period.
Also, prepare your family/ friends for things that may happen while you’re there and how they should react if they do. Mention it ahead of time, especially if this is the first time your child will be meeting this group of people.
Let them know that you’ll need a place to change him, a place to feed him, a place to warm-up his food, a place to lay him down if he needs to rest, etc. Talk about all of the options – what will you bring, what do they already have to make things easier for you? The last thing you want is to be changing your child in front of others (because the sofa is the only place available for him to lay down), or that you should have taken your child’s adapted seat, or that you should have placed his food in a thermal cup. These are all important things to figure out ahead of time. The host/ hostess will have enough to do that day.
Further, talk about how you handle meltdowns, should they occur, and let them know about your time-frame. You don’t want to rush a host/ hostess, but let them know that you may have to make an exit if things get to be too much for your child. Letting them know ahead of time helps set the stage for that day. No scenes, no awkwardness in front of other guests. Plenty of dignity for your child.
- Prepare your child. Let your child know what you’ve decided as a family. Then, explain what will happen if you’re spending holidays in locations other than in your home. If your child needs one, prepare a visual schedule of the day for each day that will not be like his regular routine. Also, prepare your child for the actual holiday. What are theme words and sounds? Spend a few weeks using the vocabulary your child will encounter on that particular holiday. Don’t forget exclamations like “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Practice opening gifts with some tearing activities ahead of time. And, of course, sing the songs so that your child can “join in” with others when holiday carols come around.
- Prepare your child’s belongings. Make a list of all the items your child will need while away from home. This way, as you prepare things the day before, or the day of, you have a checklist to refer to. Remember things like his equipment, his food, his medication, change of clothes, and a few of his favorite toys or books.
- Don’t go to the malls if you don’t have to. Contrary to what consumerism leads us to believe, the holidays are not about the malls. If you know that crowds cause your child to have a meltdown, then do your holiday shopping without him, or online. Really. No one needs unnecessary stress. Take him to a mall when things are quieter if you really want to take him there.
- Don’t force him to “socialize”. While being in a social setting is a great place to practice social skills, don’t push your child to play or talk to others if he doesn’t want to. Instead, help ease him into the situation by including him in his own way. This could mean just having him sit in with the group. Or, ask him a question about something you know he’ll have an answer for. Or, bring a game you know he’ll succeed at. Whatever you do, don’t make this social outing the teaching place for social skills. Don’t say, “Come on, Mark! Talk, will ya?” You wouldn’t want to be put on the spot, so don’t do it to your child.
- Leave when time is up. No one dictates when time is up but you and your family. Remember when you prepared yourself for the best and worst? Since everyone is aware, it’s ok to leave early.
- Forgive others. Since we established that no one lives your reality, then they also won’t always know the right words to say. No one is purposely trying to hurt your feelings by saying the wrong thing regarding your child at a holiday party. Don’t bite back. Know that these were their best intentions. Most people don’t know how to react or what to say. Just take a deep breath, and forgive them. If it really bothered you, address the issue over the phone at another time – preferably after the holidays.
How are the holidays for you and your family? What solutions work for you?