Holiday season can be overwhelming for anyone, but it is especially hard on children. Anticipation for the magic of Christmas begins at Thanksgiving and continues for many weeks. Throughout the many holiday traditions, family gatherings, and celebrations, children are expected to be happy and excited all season long. These gatherings can be even harder for children with special needs, shy temperaments, or young children. Learn how to make this special season relaxing and inviting for you and your family.
1. Do your homework
Observe your child in social situations leading up to the holidays. There may be certain times of the day your child is more outgoing and playful compared to others. Determine the people your child is most comfortable around, whether it be close family members, grandma and grandpa, or kids their age. Identify the environments your child prefers. Some children have difficulty with excess stimulation like lights and music. Determine if your child can adjust to new environments easily or prefers to stay at home. Knowing when and where your child feels most comfortable will help to plan out your holiday excursions.
2. Set Boundaries
Kids can experience stress during the holiday season with constant exposure to new places and people. Setting healthy boundaries around the holidays is important to decrease the chaos and stress of the season. Maybe skip the town’s tree lighting ceremony if it is too late or cold. Politely turn down the ornament exchange if you already committed to a party earlier in the day. If declining an invitation is not an option, consider hiring a babysitter for the night to give your kids a break.
3. Keep Schedules Consistent
Children thrive on stable schedules but the holidays are notorious for inconsistent bed times, excess food, and traveling. Try to keep sleep schedules relatively consistent during this time. Losing 10 minutes of sleep a night can add up quickly for toddlers resulting in more temper tantrums, illness, or stress. If traveling for the holidays, communicate in advance about naptime and bedtime. Bring along pajamas for the car rides to encourage sleep. Keeping a regular mealtime is important as well. Most adults tend to indulge around the holidays resulting in one to two big meals a day. Children cannot adjust as easily to fluctuating mealtimes so keep healthy food readily available for young ones.
4. Prepare in advance
Give your child notice about what to expect from holiday parties. Show pictures of the people attending the party and explain the relationship. Describe what the party will entail (gift opening, cookie baking, tree decorating, etc). Have your child pick out their favorite toy to bring to the party to share. Discuss the house rules and expectations ahead of time with your older children.
5. At the party
Bring along a bag with your child’s favorite toy, blanket, snacks, and pajamas to change into. Designate a corner or area in the house as a quiet space for your child to retreat to. If they feel overwhelmed, they can read a book or play with a familiar toy in the corner to decompress. If your child is slow to warm up at a party, play with your child at first. Invite another child or adult into the play to help ease the transition.
6. Adjust your expectations
Be realistic with your expectations for your children over the holidays. Kids need downtime and relaxing just as much as adults. Praise your child for good behavior, and listen to your children when they are upset. Tantrums are not necessarily a negative behavior, they are a way for children to express when they feel stressed. Hold your child close and comfort them at times of distress.
Most importantly, have fun! Enjoy this magical season with your loved ones!
Marchenko, Gillian. “5 Tips to Help Children with Special Needs Feel Comfortable at Your Holiday Party.” Chicago Parent, 15 Dec. 2014, www.chicagoparent.com/special-needs/special-needs-holiday-party/.
Lerner , Claire, and Rebecca Parlakian . “Children with Shy or Slow to Warm Up Temperaments.” ZERO TO THREE, 18 Feb. 2016, www.zerotothree.org/resources/198-children-with-shy-or-slow-to-warm-up-temperaments.
Team, The Understood. “11 Tips to Help Kids With ADHD Manage the Holidays.” Understood.org, www.understood.org/en/family/events-outings/holidays-celebrations/11-tips-to-help-kids-with-adhd-manage-the-holiday