The holidays are a happy and exciting time of year. As parents, we want to be able to give our children all the fun and magic that comes with the season. There is little more rewarding than a child’s holiday smile, however, with all the cold weather, schedule changes, and loud noises, every family is bound to face a challenge or two. Here are some ideas to help minimize holiday hiccups in order to maximize the smiles.
Create a Visual Schedule
A Visual Schedule is a great way to communicate the fun activities and events of the holiday proactively so children are able to know what to expect and prepare themselves. How much notice to give depends on each child. For children who work best with a lot of notice, having a calendar that spans a week or two may be a good choice. If a week or even a few days notice can create anxiety for a child, a daily calendar that is reviewed each morning is also a good option. Review the calendar together and talk about the different events that are coming up.
Use short, concrete phrases
Take a “just the facts” approach. For a lot of children on the spectrum, understanding abstract communication can be a challenge. So, by stating just the fact using just a few words, we can better provide necessary information. For example, if you are planning on going to look at lights one evening as a family but this is something that your child has not done before, it may be helpful to outline the basics only (“We are driving to Santa’s Christmas Wonderland. We will ride around in the car and look out the windows at Christmas light designs, then, we will come home. It will take about 30 minutes. If you need a break, you can close your eyes and sing a song”). Lengthy discussions about why this activity may be pleasing to others, why it is important to other members of the family, or how it ties into holiday traditions may feel overwhelming.
Sometimes holiday decorations can be overstimulating for children. As a step to make sure that every member of the family can enjoy the spirit of the holidays, include children and other family members in planning and design. This allows for children to have some say over what changes are made to the layout of the home and communicate what makes them uncomfortable. It can also help you develop ideas for how to maximize decorating while minimizing discomfort. Another good idea is to ensure that some aspect of the home remains unchanged, like a bedroom or another special area, so that children have a place to go when they need to.
Create a calm down space
No matter how much preparation and planning you put into things, sometimes children can feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable nonetheless. Work with your child to develop a plan for the different events you will be participating in and help your child use that plan when these moments happen. If you are going caroling with some friends, where can your child go if a quiet break is needed? If going shopping for gifts for others, what can your child do when the crowds are too much to manage? Work together to make a plan and ensure that your child knows and can use it. Remember to reward your child when they use their plan successfully.
First and foremost, avoid undue pressure
The holidays are a time for enjoying the company of family and friends. When feeling challenged, take a few deep breaths and focus on what matters most. You can also enlist the support of a family member, friend, or other support person to help out when needed.
Will everything go just as you planned it? Probably not. Will there be a hiccup along the way? Sure. But with the above tips and a strong plan in place, you and your family can focus on each other and have the best holiday yet. Got a tip of your own to add? Let us know on Facebook so we can add to this list!
Author: Shanna Reese, Ph.D, BCBA, LPC, LBS, Clinical Coordinator at Verbal Beginnings