Graphic illustration of house with christmas wreath and christmas trees against a snowy background.

I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news, but you need to know.

I’m sorry, in advance.

There are only 6 Fridays until Christmas….(insert scream here).  And I’m not even mentioning Thanksgiving…(insert sigh here).

So what is the plan this year?  Guests coming?  Are you going to grandma’s house?  The holidays can be so stressful for parents and children with special needs.  Parents have the last minute shopping trips, coordinating food for family gatherings and hoping little Johnny doesn’t have a complete meltdown with the over abundance of people, lights, sounds and smells during the holiday season.

This is especially true for children who have some sensory processing issues and the impact that it has on their delicate systems.  So….with that said, if you are unable to run away and hide from the holidays, here are some tips to help reduce your child’s anxiety and still hold the family together without too many tears.

  1. Are you travelling for Christmas?  Let your child know in advance all the details (when, where, who will be there, etc).  You will also want to be sure that a ‘quiet area’ will be available for your child to regroup when it gets too overwhelming.  Have an exit strategy because you want to be able to leave before the disaster begins.
  2. Yikes.  Decorations.  Bright lights, blinking no less, candles burning, balloons that might pop, loud music playing….oh my.  You are your child’s mother and only you know what can trigger an emotional breakdown.  Call ahead.  If you are going to someone’s house don’t assume they know what could provoke a meltdown.  Be specific and if you think there might be a concern, don’t go.  Don’t put yourself, your special needs child or other family members in the middle of something unpleasant.
  3. Holiday shopping!  Oh, fun!  Let’s go to the mall with a zillion people, carry lots of shopping bags and keep track of our kids at the same time!  Yay, crowds and noises!!  No.  Your child will not miraculously have a higher tolerance to the lights, people, sounds and smells just because it’s the holidays.  This could be the year of Amazon for most of your Christmas presents.  Don’t set yourself up just to get anxious.  If you DO have to get out, be sure you have a list and for crying out loud, don’t roam and God bless.
  4. Santa.  Ugh.  What the heck is he doing here at the mall?  Not all kids love having their picture taken with Santa.  Generally speaking, his suit stinks, his beard doesn’t fit right and he isn’t always jolly.  And your kids?  Mine thought this was a form of punishment, sitting on a strangers lap, wearing party clothes and being told they can’t run up the down escalator.  Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it.  Take a picture of them in their jammies….asleep.  It’s better.
  5. Back to the exit strategy….If you and your partner are going to the event with your children and your special needs child is ready to go home NOW….then perhaps your partner can stay with the kids for the festivities and you can get out of Dodge.  Thank goodness for Uber and Lyft.  Or if your sober Uncle can give whoever remains with the kids a ride back home, you’re golden.
  6. Thank heavens for whoever invented the phrase, “Less is more”.  It’s better to hand out just one gift at a time so as not to overwhelm your child with toys, boxes, wrapping paper, etc.  Just the sounds of the paper and excitement may be too much for him so go slow and enjoy the experience.

Try not to put any unrealistic pressure on yourself.  The holidays bring out some weird stress and tension for some families and the most important thing to remember is that it is a time to love and cherish family.  Read the Christmas story from the Bible and teach your children the real meaning of Christmas.  Perhaps you can have your children do something special for others such as making cookies, sending a drawing or card to overseas military, take treats to a local nursing home.  Relax….

Celebrate in a way that works for your family.

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