Looking back at the last 6 months I have been continually impressed on how families are pushing through the pandemic. Everywhere I look plates are full and life has quickly become this insane balancing act. Now more than ever we need to take a deep breath and take a step back. Its’ time to take stock of what we have accomplished and what we can control in the hectic holiday weeks ahead. Family from out of town might be visiting. You might be traveling. School will be on break. We may quickly find this lack of consistency has ourselves and our kids spinning.
Now this may not be the most professional post, but I am hoping to bring some perspective. Here is a truth, teachers have known for years; no matter the age or abilities of our children, despite the pandemic, ALL kids lose their minds during the holidays. Yes, ALL OF THEM! ALL children are over excited. ALL of them have a hard time focusing. ALL children are experiencing sensory overload. It is like they all turn into little holiday monsters who cannot self-regulate. I hope this little dose of reality brings you comfort. This common thread of stress, inconsistent schedules, and overall holiday chaos gives me pause. We could all use some tips surviving the holidays with a smile and sense of peace.
Here are some practical steps we can implement to keep the peace.
Step 1: Identify your comfort zone. Be honest about who you want to spend your time with. Think about how you want your family to spend their time. What makes you feel comfortable? What will make your child feel comfortable? Who makes you laugh, smile, and feel completely accepted and loved? If there is a situation or a person or even a place that will disturb that peace, realize it is ok to skip the event, cancel plans, and just claim some space. Take care of yourself. Take care of your family.
Step 2: Slowly introduce sensory input. It seems in our house Christmas goes up in one weekend. Everything! Lights, tree, decorations, cookies, presents… AHHH!!! It is A LOT! And like a crazy person I do it every year! Why do we do this to ourselves? All children could benefit from the slow introduction of things. Just because the tree is up does not mean it needs to be decorated the same day. Nor does it have to have freshly wrapped presents underneath it, ASAP. Preparing your child for the changes to their environment in stages can lower anxiety and mitigate sensory concerns.
Step 3: Try to keep a schedule/routine: I am always so proud of families who assert their need to maintain a schedule. For many it keeps their children calm, stable, and it helps mitigated melt downs. I cannot stress enough how important routine is for ALL children. Research shows consistent routines help children feel safe and secure.
Step 4: Practice “front loading”: This is an educational term and a strategy that works wonders. It is basically predicting what will happen for your child. Again, it is a strategy that can help ALL children.
For loud noises try saying, “When we get there the music and people
might be loud. You can use your headphones to help you block out
For social concerns try saying, “There is going to be lots of
people there wanting to talk and visit with you. It’s ok to take
breaks and come find me if you get overwhelmed.”
For high energy try saying, “I can see you are excited. When we get
there, let’s talk with the host about boundaries. What is ok to
play with? What is ok to do?”
Remember, what may seem completely typical to us can overload children’s senses and overwhelm their emotions. Let’s prepare them for scenarios that could be triggers.
Step 5: Give family members insight on your child: Sometime people are not sure how interact with a child with Autism or Downs or ADHD. Email, call, or text family members things you know that work. Give them the heads up on your child’s triggers, aversions, or sensory needs. I know I appreciate knowing! I go out of my way to meet the needs that friends and family have requested. I want my home to be a safe place for any child.
Step 6: Identify a helper: Oh Momma’s! We put too much pressure on ourselves. Dads, I don’t mean to leave you out, but when it comes to tough moments, us Momma’s bear the brunt. We are the ones processing emotions with our kids, doing the front loading, helping with the sensory issues, and trying the impossible task of planning and preparing for the unknown. It is stressful! For those of you who need to hear this, “It’s ok to need to tap out every once in a while”. Find a person who understands your child, who your child views as safe, and create a plan for help. I love being that person to my girlfriends. I love stepping up and offering them a moment of respite because I understand how desperately it is needed.
Step 7: Be kind to yourself: Repeat after me… I will not compare my children with others. I will not put my children in obligatory situations that cause them to be upset. I will unplug from social media and realize that the pictures I see are just that…pictures, just a snapshot, not a whole life. I will be true to myself, my family, and the needs of my children. That’s it! Nothing else matters in the scheme of things.
With all my well-wishes… find your balance, maintain your peace, give yourself some grace and have a VERY Merry Christmas!