Most people love the holiday season, me, not so much. As a parent with a special needs child, I dread the holidays. From family members who just critique and criticize and refuse to understand, to the sounds and lights that will set my son off. Thus, each family event is like tiptoeing around a minefield afraid of the explosions. Such events for kids, even those with ADHD, Autism, or Self-Control issues are supposed to be fun and looked forward to. Yet, some kids, perhaps one in fifty, will have problems. And it does not always have to do with special needs. So, what can we do to make things go a bit easier?
- You do not have to go to every event. Pick the ones that will be the healthiest for your family. Ones that will cause the least amount of anxiety for your child. There is no need to attend every pageant or event. Focus on immediate family and close friends. If there is a dysfunctional family member that seeks to cause problems, then, create a boundary, even if that means you do not attend the event.
- Let your child know what to expect. Go over the day’s schedule and activities beforehand. Also, remind them that words like, “thank-you,” or “it is good to see you,” are great ways to greet family and friends. Have them ask questions like, “what teams do you like,” or “what movies have you seen lately?” you may even practice, like how to sit at a table with people they do not know well. All of these friendly gestures will help your child feel more at ease during gatherings.
- If they get bored easily or are prone to meltdowns, have a backpack with quiet activities they enjoy, like coloring books, word puzzles, books, and if necessary a gaming device. To give them ease, also have healthy snacks, a bottle of water, and a stuffed animal to comfort them. Have noise-canceling earphones or earplugs for noisy occasions. And sunglass for overwhelming lights. And see if there is a place they can go and rest if they get overwhelmed or frustrated. This avoids most meltdowns!
- There may be rules at the event, such as no being wild or roughhousing or house rules at a person’s home like no shoes in the house or no kids in a particular room. Be sure to explain to your child the reasoning behind these rules, so that they will be prepared for them when the time comes.
- If you are at an event and other children are playing sports and your child doesn’t want to play but would still like to be involved, have them keep score. Participating as a scorekeeper will get your child involved while benefitting those playing. Always encourage your child to be involved, but do not force them.
- At gift exchanges, show your child how to react. If they are disappointed with what they get, let them know that is ok, but instead of saying so, choose kinder and appreciative words like thank you. Maybe save that gift for a re-gift and they can choose something else of a similar value later.
- Go over a gesture with your child when something is not going well, like whispering in your ear or touching their ear if they can get to you. Then take them out for a break.
- When families are achievement-oriented at get-togethers, sometimes there is a competition of whose kids are doing better. Instead of engaging or defending, talk about your child’s milestones and why they are important. For example, “tell grandma about a project you did.” Be positive and not condescending, even when others are.
- If the gathering is at your home. Give your child a job like answering the phone or the door, or greeting people, or serving.
- Be generous with praise when they do something well, like play with a cousin they do not know well, or how they greeted someone. Catch them doing something good. Whisper in their ear that they are doing great.
You will get through this. These tips will help your child be better at relating and have fewer meltdowns. This is the journey of parenting. We nurture and bring up our children as best as we can with the opportunities and resources we have. As they get older, they will get more comfortable and be able to function in the world better. If we put in the work and positivity, it will show as they grow older. If we let it go on without encouragement, then we will create future problems.
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