The holidays are upon us and so is the season of sensory overload. If you are among a growing number of Lower Mainland families who have children with special needs, here are some practical tips to make your holidays that much merrier and successful.
- Whenever possible, plan ahead and make your calendar as visual as possible for all members of your family. Using a large calendar to record special dinners, commitments, school concerts, visiting family and outings in a central location will help keep you organized. Placing it in a central location and talking about the calendar with the family daily will help keep everyone in the loop and on track.
- Preload your family members a few days before, the night before and day of any changes to your normal schedule. A morning reminder of a class skating party, holiday gathering, or an upcoming night out will help take away some of the anxiety of the change in routines.
- Keep the lights, décor and music low. Unexpected novelty, robotic or sensor/motion detecting holiday decorations can really enhance some people’s holiday enjoyment, but may be overwhelming to young or unsuspecting children. The old adage that “Less is more” really does make a difference.
- Shopping malls are bursting at the seams this time of year and if you must take your child with you keep in mind this can be very overwhelming for the child. Try destination shopping with your child. “Pre load and Reward”, pre load them by telling them your plan. “Today we are going to the store. We need to buy a gift for someone. When we are done at the store we will go to the park/home/coffee shop” It is important to pair non preferred activities like shopping with a preferred activity for a child, making sure you follow through with what you promise immediately. This takes the anxiety about being in the noisy/busy store and makes it a little more bearable for both. If at all possible try shopping at the very beginning of the shopping day or at the very end.
- Visiting Santa. If a visit to Santa is a tradition your family loves but the line ups and noises make it more of a chore there are a few tips for making that trip to Santa Magical. First check with your preferred location and see if they offer a quiet visit with Santa time, often this is at a time where the mall is either closed to the general public or a time set aside for families like ours. If your mall doesn’t offer this I recommend finding out Santa’s schedule, and scope out the mall ahead of time on your own, speak with the Elves at Santa’s workshop and find out when their less busy times are and if you can make an appointment. If your child is nervous around Santa, visit from a far a few times to see if getting used to seeing Santa from a far gets easier with each visit. *One year Santa met our son, outside his normal area and just sat with him for a few minutes during a non-busy time at the mall, earning him a friend for life!
- Keep meal times regular and everyday foods on hand. We all love to eat this time of year, however the traditional foods we enjoy may not be something your child is used to, being flexible around meals with a little give an take can also help ease tense moments at the dinner table. If you know that the holiday dinner is going to be served at a different time then your child is used to, offer them a slightly smaller meal at the regular meal time and pre load them about the expectations at the later dinner.
- Involve your kids in the holiday process, having them help you choose what activities they want to do, along with the commitments you have to do will make the season feel more fun for all. If your child usually swims/skates with a school or program, and they look forward to this activity try to schedule some regular activities they will miss when school is out, the familiar activities will help with keeping a more regular routine.
- If you are traveling for the holidays be sure to pack with you some things from home that bring comfort as well as convenience. Your own pillow, favorite blanket and a few of your child’s favorite things are a great idea. Consider also traveling with an electric power bar, your own brand of laundry soap, tub toys and familiar toiletries.
- Stock up on ginger ale, adult/children’s fever relief, Gatorade, an extra thermometer, tissues and ice packs. From experience trying to find an open pharmacy on Christmas Eve/Day is not the way any of us want to spend the holidays!
- Learn to say “NO”. We are all guilty of over extending ourselves during the holidays and sometimes it really is better to just say no. Offer instead to meet up with the friend or extended family in the New Year when things are much less busy.
Karen M. Owen is a busy mom of three boys who calls Vancouver home. A passionate Hockey Mom, Autism Awareness Advocate, tea lover, cozy mystery reader, crafter, blogger, baker and aspiring author. Writing daily, you can find her on her two blogs acupofteaandcozymystery and karenmomofthreescraft