Without a doubt, the holidays look a bit different this year. After months of being in quarantine, homeschool routines, and less play dates, many parents are pulling their hair out trying to keep their kids entertained and lift their spirits.
For kids who are used to a specific routine, this modified holiday lifestyle can bring a whirlwind of emotions. If anyone knows about getting resourceful when managing their kids’ emotions and activities, it’s Tracey Hawkins. You may remember this Mompreneur from our Sept-October issue ‘Creating The New Stereotype’. In the issue, we spoke with Hawkins about taking her experiences as a Mom to boys who are on the autism spectrum and creating ‘Thriving On The Spectrum’. This December the growing online platform shared some really innovative and interactive tips for keeping kids (and parents) sane during the holidays. Even if your kids are not on the autism spectrum, there are lots of tips to make staying at home for the holidays a little easier.
Check out this blog post from their site on Preparing for the Holidays
PREPARING FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Holiday preparations are in full swing, and we are focused on preparing gifts, decorations and meals. But are we taking time to prepare for and with the people in our lives? What can we do to prep our children, our loved ones, and, perhaps most importantly, ourselves for the upcoming holiday festivities?
PREPARING YOUR CHILD
Try to incorporate the following strategies to prepare your child for exciting and even unique, out-of-the-norm holiday activities:
- Break out your tool box! Gather items that are comforting and engaging for your child. Place items into a backpack or duffle bag so that you can easily take them with you on the go. Be sure to include a chewy/crunchy snack and a straw drink!
- Re-vamp your social story cards! Remember that social story from Thanksgiving? Re-vamp it for the December holidays!
- You can write a simple social story for occurrences like meeting Santa, baking cookies, and opening presents. Keep the language simple. Highlight elements that may be unpredictable such as the mess that oftentimes comes with baking cookies or other holiday treats or Santa saying, “Ho Ho Ho”.
- Visual schedules are an absolute must! Your child is likely used to a consistent daily routine, so try to integrate the novel activities into a familiar structure. Keep the morning and evening routines the same, but use your visual schedule to let your child know of a new activity happening during the day. Review the visual schedule with your child at the start of each day.
- Try to give choices as much as possible! This gives your child an element of control within the boundaries that you’ve set.
- Examples are:
- Do you want cereal or special Santa pancakes for breakfast?
- Do you want to wear your red sweater or your blue sweater?
- Create a safe retreat! If you will be going to another home or having many people over to your home, designate a safe space for your child to retreat to if they are feeling overwhelmed. Place a few preferred items in the safe space. Beforehand, be sure to take your child to the space and talk about when/why they may use it.
PREPARING YOUR FAMILY
A common area of innocent contention is the realm of family and friend interaction. Family and friends often have the best of intentions, but they may miss the mark in their efforts to connect with a child with autism who they don’t see on a regular basis. So, how do you prepare for this invisible margin of sometimes suspenseful involvement between your child and loved ones in a way that lessens the gap?
Read one of our November blogs, Talking to Family About Autism, for helpful tips to proactively avoid those uncomfortable or awkward situations.
You have spent time making provisions for others, but perhaps the most important person to make comfy, thriving space for is yourself. Take time to prepare yourself with the following ideas:
- Remember, less can be more. While it can be tempting to plan every single holiday-related event, think about which may be the most gratifying to you and fun for your child — therein lies your priority and a good place to start. It also may be wise to think about simple swaps that may suit your child’s needs.
For instance, instead of crowded, heavily lit, overly bright and noisy events, perhaps do a tour of lights around your neighborhood while in the family vehicle. Or, instead of meeting Santa at the mall, invite Santa to your house or simply say, “hello” to him in an online video.
- Always have a plan B (…and C…and D) in mind. Take the time to digest all plans so that you can be just as excited about those.
- Enlist a support team. Before an event, talk to a friend about being your go-to helper. They may be able to take an upset child outside for a walk or prepare food while you comfort an overwhelmed child.
- Give yourself permission to take a break or step away. Whether that break is an afternoon out at a holiday shop or simply taking a walk with your child to look at decorations, do what feels right for you, and what gives you a moment to recharge.
The idea of preparations as they pertain to people and their inherent idea-set may seem like just another thing on the ever-growing to-do list; but it indeed deserves prioritized space as it contributes to overall peace and understanding as we move through a busy time of year. This holiday season, be gentle with yourself and your child. Worry less about the expected activities and focus more on what will be special and right for your family. The THRIVE team hopes that we’ve helped you in finding joy within even the bustling (yet sometimes mundane) preparatory measures.
Happy planning, Happy Priming, Happy Prepping!
Mary Hart MacLeod, MS, OTR/L, BCP
Pediatric Occupational Therapist