A Parent’s Guide To Thriving During The Holidays!
A Parent’s Guide To Thriving During The Holidays!
The holiday season can be difficult for parents of children with special needs. But it doesn’t have to be.
Between dressing up for Halloween, changing clocks back for Daylight Savings Time, partying over turkey on Thanksgiving and wrapping presents, there is no shortage of big doings in the holiday season. Many parents and children embrace these events with gusto, but for parents of children with special needs, the happenings can create significant disruption and spark some serious trouble.
“Around here we usually hold our breath in October and don’t exhale until January,” says Barbara Street, a parent of one special needs child, 10, and two neurotypical kids, 7 and 5, respectively. “If it’s not one thing at this time of year, it’s most definitely another.”
Street is not the only parent grappling with what she’s labeled “Holiday Frenzy.” All over the country, other parents of children with special needs find themselves in the same difficult situations.
We’ve consulted our experts to provide this closer look at some of the biggest challenges with some suggestions on what you can do to make the season a little easier for everybody involved.
Remember, every child is different, and there is no flow chart for how this works.
The overarching goal: Be flexible, and remember that no tradition is more important than the comfort and happiness of your kids.
Surviving the holidays
The challenges associated with holidays like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years can be overwhelming for a family with special needs. The sounds, sights, and schedule disorders during this season can be difficult to manage. Yet with planning and a positive attitude, the holiday season can be something every family can to look forward to.
By the time Thanksgiving rolls around most families of children with special needs have managed to survive the day light savings time change and Halloween. As with those two events, sensory integration disorder continues to be the big issues in households. If a house full of company is not enough of a distraction, hard-to-explain decorations such as burning candles on the mantle, well-intentioned visitors and pine trees in the living room undoubtedly are.
Add to these the disruption of time off from school—and, therefore, time off from in-home therapy—and the stretch from Thanksgiving through New Years can be downright difficult.
Still, a few minor tweaks to holiday rituals can go a long way.
- Ease your child into the big family gatherings by introducing him or her to one or two relatives at a time (instead of everybody all at once). Some parents also send family members a letter beforehand with some suggestions about how to make the child feel most comfortable. Click here for some sample letters.
- Rely upon an old tradition: the kids table. Set up a table for the kids, so your child does not have to grapple with the stress of sitting with the grown-ups, yet still feels like part of something special.
- Set up a safe place in the house for your child to go if he or she just wants to be alone.
- If you have a tree during Christmas, decorate it in such a way that satisfies your kid’s curiosity. In many cases, this might mean utilizing small stuffed animals instead of ornaments. In other cases, it might mean nothing but plain white lights and strands of cranberries and/or popcorn.
- “Tree decorations are supposed to be subjective,” says Kelly. “Who’s to say you can’t get exceptionally creative for the benefit of your special needs child?”
Links and Resources
Love, Laugh & Live: The Emotional Side of the Holidays
Holidays are supposed to be special times for the whole family. Most of us grow up expecting them to be memorable and fun. When we have children, we experience these dreams and expectations even more acutely.
It’s perfectly natural, then, to experience an emotional roller coaster when presented with the challenge of navigating holidays with a child with special needs.
One key to managing this inevitably frustrating situation is learning to let go.
“You have to be willing to modify certain traditions, or forget them all together,” says Barbara Streett, parent of a child with autism. “What you want or envision may not be the best thing for your child, so you have to change your plan accordingly.”
With this in mind, Community Gatepath therapists suggests that parents set realistic expectations and remind themselves of the following tips:
- Holidays are about the kids; it’s a successful holiday if the kids are happy.
- When you feel frustrations welling up, take a step back and focus on what you’re doing.
- Allow yourself to be frustrated and anxious; there’s no shame in that.
- Remind yourself that it’s OK to let go of certain traditions that just won’t work…for now.
- Remember what your child’s “currency” is and use that to interact with him or her.
Streett is careful to add that especially at holiday time, the definition of a family meal should be flexible.
“If your child doesn’t want to eat with everybody else, that needs to be OK; if the child needs to take a break, let him go,” she says. “The sooner you stop fighting the fact that these kinds of traditions must be set in stone, the more enjoyable the holiday will be.”