If you have a child with special needs, chances are you may find holidays especially stressful. Any difference in routine may make your child anxious and his behaviors may change dramatically. Many kids with special needs seem to be extra in-tune with change. Entertaining extended family, driving to/from relatives’ homes or visiting friends can strike terror in a parent’s heart. Once you remove your little one from his routine and the “sameness” of his world, who knows what will happen!
What can you do? Here are some tips:Simplify, simplify, simplify.
• Limit holiday dinners – either stay at home and keep guests to a minimum, or travel only short distances to see familiar friends and relatives.
• Keep dinners short and get home before crankiness sets in.
• If you are doing the cooking, limit the amount you do. Two side dishes are just as delicious as five. Ask guests to bring a dish all ready to serve. Supplement your sides or desserts with store or bakery bought items.
• Keep noise to a minimum (music, loud TV) as many kids find the auditory stimulation painful or anxiety provoking.
Know your child.• Know your child’s limits – if he can only sit at the table for 10 minutes at a time before needing to get up, only have dinner with friends/family who understand his needs.
• Provide ample quiet time for your child to re-charge his batteries. He may need more quiet time than usual to process all the stimulation and confusion around him.
Sameness helps…a lot.• Try to keep bedtime routines and lights-out time the same every night.
• Holidays are not the time to start new routines. Stick to what your little one knows.
• Often wearing a new outfit will produce a negative reaction in a child. If you want your child to wear a new outfit for a holiday dinner, let him see and even wear the outfit at least one time before the dinner, so that he can get used to it.
Reward, reward, reward.• Reward positive behaviors. This is the time to heap praise on your little one for all the things he gets right. Change is hard for him, so let him know you recognize and appreciate it when he does well.
Rest up• Expect that things will be bumpy, and be sure you are well rested to handle the bumps. Your little one will pick up on your anxiety and stress. And you will be more stressed-out if you don’t get enough sleep. So, let getting enough sleep be a priority for you.
Bottom lineRemember – less is more. The goal of a holiday dinner is to enjoy time with family and friends. If you keep things simple, you will find that you will enjoy it more, and your child may enjoy it too! The key is for everyone to be as relaxed as possible. Try to keep your perspective and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.com.