So, we can tick Halloween and the time change off our checklist. Good work!
And now, it’s time to add the craziness of the holidays:
- Family parties
- Not-so-familiar relatives
- Not-so-healthy foods
- Late nights out
- …and more!
It’s exhausting just listing those things!
Here are my top recommendations to THRIVE during the holidays and make sure that your family is still getting a good night’s rest:
Write a Social Story for your child
I will sing the praises for social stories for the rest of my life. These are crucial tools to have to help prepare your child with special needs for any changes to the day-to-day. Your child’s social story should include pictures of where they are going, who they will see, and what to expect during the day. This will allow them to feel more settled and prepared for being off their routine. When a child knows what to expect, sleep does come a lot more easily.
Create a Countdown Calendar
This can be especially helpful for children who might not understand time concepts as well, or will continually ask “When is _________ happening?” Create a countdown calendar for 1 week before the holiday happens. Each morning, go over with your child how many days left until the holiday comes. If your child asks again, then you can refer back to the calendar easily.
Have a (rough) daily schedule
Honestly, it can be a huge gear shift to go from full days of school and therapy to nothing for 1-2 weeks. We want your child to be doing activities so that they are still burning enough energy to need sleep at night.
Each morning, write a rough schedule for your child so they know what to expect, and prepare them for any new people or places they might see. In the morning, go over this with you child. Consider bringing a copy of this schedule, in case your child needs a reminder or asks later in the day. Don’t forget to build some quiet time into the day, especially the day of a holiday or big party.
Need some ideas? This visual schedule has 200+ activity cards!
Do Sensory Stimulation…seriously!
At any big holiday, your child will be exposed to sounds, textures, smells, and tastes that they are not used to. Get them ready for this by exposing them to these sensations in a consistent, but controlled way. You can give your child the opportunity to smell different foods, perfumes, etc. If they allow it, give a small taste of new foods on their tongue.
For sounds, you may want to invest in a good pair of headphones if your child is very sensitive to sounds. At brief moments during the day, you could try to recreate the sounds they might hear at a family party – glasses clinking, silverware on plates, music/TV/talking simultaneously. Make sure to not overwhelm your child, however. These sessions should be brief and not last more than 15-20 seconds.
For tactile, your child may not like the texture of other people’s clothing, or tries to avoid hugs. You can even have your child touch different types of fabrics to get used to grandmom’s itchy sweater, for example.
Have a quiet space ready for when things do get too overwhelming
We won’t force a child with special needs to “put up” with all the things they could be exposed to at a big family gathering. Make sure to set up a quiet space that your child can go to, if they need to unwind. Allowing space to destress will let steam out of the gasket before bedtime.
If you’re traveling to another family member’s house, inquire ahead of time and see if there’s a quiet space to bring your child. If not, getting out for brief walks will help, too.
Stick to your bedtime routine!
When the holiday vacation is super hectic, there’s only so much we can predict! Making sure that your child is getting their bedtime routine consistently allows them to wind down more easily. And, when things were so unpredictable that day, there is comfort in getting back to a routine!
There might be some nights where your child is getting to bed later than usual. I would still recommend doing the usual bedtime routine, but you might have to get through the steps faster. If your child has playtime in their bedtime routine, stick to quiet activities like books, puzzles, cards, drawing, etc.
Build in a few minutes or your own quiet time each day
The holidays can be especially challenging for a special needs parent. It feels like you’re constantly watching your child, and that you’re being watched by the family around you. It’s exhausting to constantly explain to family members why your child won’t do hugs, eat this, do this.
Make sure to find a few moments to yourself each day to destress yourself. Getting your child to bed a little earlier will allow you that extra 15-20 minutes. And, when finding that self care time, do things that will make you happy! I recommend avoiding social media, emails, etc. even if that is a good way to “veg” out.
And, for the duration of the holidays, find a buddy you can turn to when things feel really stressful. Having someone to talk to and to get things off your chest can help you feel lighter when things are weighing you down.
If all else fails, take it one day at a time – things will be on track soon!
We can only control what we can control. When it feels like things have gone off the rails, just take it one day at a time. When the dust settles, the gifts are finally put away, and the tree’s on the curb, that’s when you can get back to schedule. Your child’s diet will get back on track. Your child’s schedule will reset. And, your child will be back on their sleep schedule soon enough! Make sure to “bookmark” this blog for January 2nd, in case you need it 🙂