It’s the holidays! A time of Celebration of a time of Stress?

The holidays are around the corner; many families are decorating their homes for Christmas and others are thinking of New Year’s Eve. Family gatherings, large and small might be taking place – comprising of people of all ages, with all different abilities and challenges along with maybe some dogs or other animals. Lots of commotion, lots of hugs, and lots of stimulation. For some children, it will all feel wonderful, and they will enjoy this time of the year. For others, however, it will feel overwhelming and create anxiety and uncertainty, maybe resulting in behavioral issues. Listed below are some suggestions that might help the child and the family as they celebrate the holidays.

If you’re having a gathering at your home:

  1. Plan ahead by providing a social story for your child so he knows what to expect.
  2. Schedule quiet times or chill-out zones in home for when the child is experiencing discomfort.  Remember, children pick up on parents’ stress so be aware of your own stress as well.
  3. Ask others to help (with setting up, serving, etc).
  4. Wrap up familiar toys instead of new ones, as some children become anxious with unfamiliar toys.
  5. Give your child a job (something that you know he can do and enjoys to do) and a schedule for the day.
  6. If your child is sensitive to perfume, ask relatives to hold off on using perfume or ask them if they can use less than normal.
  7. Help your child to give gifts to others (maybe have your child make a craft gift to give to one of the guests).
  8. During the holiday time, schedule 1:1 special time with your child, often less stimulating, a more calming activity for the 2 of you.
  9. Create a weekly calendar with pictures for the child to see in the week (s) before the holidays.
  10. Prepare the guests beforehand about your child’s needs for the day of the gathering.
  11. If your child has fine motor difficulties, make sure that the gifts are easy to open.

If you’re going to someone else’s house:

  1. Prepare a bag of favorite activities—books, toys, music that the child enjoys.
  2. Always have an exit plan and let host family know that you might need to leave earlier than what is initially planned.
  3. Be selective as to which gatherings you attend and which you don’t attend.

Extra tips:

  1. Have your family create your own traditions that work for your family.
  2. Remember to keep things simple; simple things can still be perfect for the holidays and might feel less stressful for everyone.

*Information contained in this blog entry came from articles written by Emma Sterland and Ellen Stumbo.