As parents you want to make the holidays as magical as possible for the kiddos. Santa visits, holiday parties and the excitement of opening gifts on Christmas morning are all traditions that make the season bright! Keeping children with special needs happy can be challenging. The hubbub of family celebrations and parties can overwhelm those with sensory issues; others might find the break in routine unsettling (and meltdown-inducing). It’s also not very joyous for a kid with delays to open up a present that doesn’t fit his developmental stage. We have a few tips to help prepare your child to have a jolly time!
1 – Help Kids Prepare
Some children thrive on routine and feeling informed, which makes the chaos of the holidays hard for them. A visual schedule helps kiddos understand why and how their routine will change, allows them to focus on the fun to come and lowers their anxiety over being in a different place with different people.
We suggest apps like ChoiceWorks and Routinely to create visual schedules, and makes paper ones, too. It helps to include pictures of the people you will be seeing and icons of Christmas trees, presents and favorite holiday foods. Then your child can relax and get into the holiday spirit!
2 – Share a Gift Wish List
The truth is, it can be difficult to pick the right gift for any kid. Add in special needs and things get even more difficult. Email loved ones and friends a wish list of suggested gifts. Include a tried-and-true one — something your child has seen before and loves or something similar and a gift that addresses one of the goals they’re working on.
For example, your child’s therapist may set a goal to use both hands during play. A good gift could be a box of instruments with a tambourine and cymbals to encourage the use of two hands. This works out great for everyone. The gift-giver knows that their present is something that your child will love and also encourages them to try new things!
3 – Bring Your Own Food & Supplies to Gatherings
If your loved one is picky eater or on a special diet, or if there is a risk of tantrums, difficult behavior and stress over missing his/her favorite food, bring your own supply. Furthermore, if there are certain items that will help calm your child; such as iPads, books, stuffed animals or weighted vests, make certain you bring them to all gatherings.
4 – Hire an Elf (Sitter)
If possible, try to schedule extra help to assist during the holiday season. This extra help may take the form of a “mother’s helper,” a babysitter, a local college student, someone to come along to activities and gatherings. This helper can watch your child with special needs when there are activities that you want the rest of family to attend but are not a good fit for he or she.
While it is challenging to raise a loved one with special needs, holiday time is an important time to realize all of the gifts we have been given via the gift of our child(ren). Take time to realize that you have become a better parent, a more patient person and a better advocate of helping other families with special needs.