Five Tips for Less Stressful Holidays for Special Needs Families

With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, it’s full steam ahead for the Christmas season. Our routines change, activity ramps up, and often our children are exposed to new and unfamiliar people, places, smells, tastes, and experiences. Some kids love the excitement of the holidays, but for others it can be stressful (heck, it’s stressful for us as adults!)

We can’t control everything, and we’re bound to have some hiccups along the way, but try some of these tips to keep things on track and less stressful, not just for your child, but for you and your family members, as well.

1 – Prepare Your Child with Photographs or Social Stories

If your child enjoys looking at pictures, gather photos of your family doing holiday activities and share them in a holiday-themed album. These photos will help your child recognize what’s happening and not get overwhelmed.

You can go a step further and create a social story for your child. Social stories are used to help a child know in advance what to expect in a situation and understand what she is expected to do in that situation and why. Check out our Halloween social story blog post for a “how to” on creating a social story

2 – Prepare Your Extended Family and Friends

In addition to preparing your child for the occasion, it’s a good idea to prepare your family (and friends), as well. Discuss your child’s needs with them and let them know what your plans for the event are – be gentle, but firm. Emphasize that adhering to the plan will make the event more enjoyable for everyone, not just your child. If you face resistance, don’t feel guilty for opting out or leaving an event early.

3 – Give Your Child an Itinerary and Assign Him a Job

Children who tend to struggle at family gatherings or other social occasions may be less stressed if they have a clear idea of what will happen. For example, explaining that there will be periods of time when people will mill about, chatting with others, followed by a family meal, then opening gifts, will help reduce your child’s stress because they know what to expect.

In addition, giving him a task, such as taking coats, passing out snacks, refilling drinks, and so on, will keep him busy and allow him to interact with others with less social pressure.

4 – Prepare a Bag of Activities

When you’re away from home, pack a bag with items that your child enjoys – these could include books, small toys, stuffed animals, cars, electronics, or anything else which could help to soothe her. If your child becomes overstimulated, retreat to a quiet room with the backpack and give her time to decompress before rejoining the party.

5 – Guard Against Wandering

Some children, particularly those who have Down syndrome or are on the autism spectrum, tend to wander. Travel to strange places, large group events, altered routines, and endless distractions are common during the holiday season and can heighten this risk. Consider getting a GPS safety device or ID bracelet that your child can wear in the event she is separated from you. Prevention is best, however, so make sure that you or another responsible individual is aware of where your child is at all times, and if your child isn’t in your range of vision while you’re visiting with a friend or family member, apologize and excuse yourself briefly to confirm she hasn’t wandered. It might feel a little impolite, but if you have a wandering child, it’s a small price to pay.

Hopefully these tips will help your family to have a pleasant and less stressful holiday season.


Image Courtesy Pixabay/Title Added

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