We all have dreams of holidays from magazines and movies dancing in our heads. I think of Bing Crosby singing his way across the screen in White Christmas and James Stewart drawing us into yesteryear in It’s a Wonderful Life. Better Homes & Gardens, Real Simple, and Taste of Home magazines explode each year with beautiful, perfect Thanksgiving and Christmas scenes.
These magazines and movies often make us dream of a perfect meal, a white Christmas and a wonderful life. Yet, as anyone can tell you when you have children the holidays rarely, if ever, go according to plan.
Maneuvering through the holidays are often very difficult with children, but add special needs, be it medical, emotional and/or developmental, and things can unwind very quickly.
With the holidays coming up I wanted to share some tips for holiday gatherings we’ve learned as a family along the way. These tips help our children manage a little easier, be it traveling or staying home.
This one is the toughest parts of the holidays when you are dealing with food allergies or special diets.
The best way to deal with this is to be sure to plan on having/bringing extra food that is part of your children’s diet, this may include creating several dishes that are allergy friendly or just having desserts on hand. When you are at home it’s easy to control what is being offered, so take some time and plan ahead.
When going to someone else’s house this can be sticky, so talk with your host/hostess ahead of time.
- Assure your host/hostess that you mean no disrespect by bringing your own food, but that you do not expect them to accommodate your special diet needs.
- At the same time, be open to sharing ideas if they really want to create something your child can have. It is far better to be open and honest so that issues do not come up creating a mess during the gathering.
If possible create a children’s table so that children don’t need to be perfect around adults. Often these children feel different already and are extra nervous because of routine change and new people. If they don’t have the ability to have perfect table manners a children’s table alleviates the need.
It is always fun to gather the family together around the holidays, but too many people and extra hubbub going on can overwhelm many children too easily.
- Have your child meet new people or even old faces a few at a time rather than a whole crowd at once.
- Give your child a schedule especially if there are a lot of transitions! Write it or create one with pictures for non-readers. Go over it before the events and give them time to ask questions and be comfortable with what they will face. Sometimes just knowing what is coming next helps cut down anxiety.
- Don’t forget to have a quick family meeting and go over what might be expected before you leave.
- Do your best to keep bedtime routines as close to normal as possible or build in a quiet/nap time during the day if that is impossible.
While we are on that note…a quiet time during a long day or each day if events are more than one day is a great idea. Give your child a chance to take a break from the festivities and calm before heading into more activities.
- Give your child a quiet place to “run” to if he or she feels overwhelmed and needs a break, or a code word so that you can help them find a quiet spot. This will again, help with anxiety by giving them some control during times of over-stimulation.
If you have a child with significant sensory issues this will be really important for them. Some other ideas for extra sensitivities would be to have ear plugs, sensory fidgets, and comfy clothing.
- It is important to remind family and friends that too much activity becomes crazy for your child
- Ask for extra sets of eyes to watch for your child beginning to be overwhelmed. Sometimes, Grandma taking a child aside for a quick quiet moment is just the ticket.
- Sometimes gift opening is too overwhelming with the noise, paper flying and the obligatory thank-you hugs.
Keep the hugs and need to say thank you to a minimum, like Great-great Grandma who would NEVER understand and be hurt to not get a hug or thank you.
Break up opening gifts into smaller chunks of time.
Ask for more gift bags instead of wrapping paper if it’s too much.
Remember, be flexible and allow for your children’s needs to come before family traditions and it will make for a better holiday rather than fighting to keep traditions in place.
Be sure that you take time to love being together as family. This time is fleeting!
I hope that some of these ideas will help and everyone has a great holiday season this year.
Anyone have any ideas they’d like to add to the list, I’d love to hear about them. Share your ideas with us!