Reducing Holiday Anxiety for Your Child
It’s not uncommon for kids and adults with autism to struggle with anxiety, even under conditions that many of us feel are festive. What’s viewed as exciting for some people can be a recipe for disaster for another.
Preparing your kids for changes in routines, mealtimes, and impending visits from relatives they’ve never seen before, goes a long way in helping the season stay as “merry and bright” as possible.
Tips on How to Make Peace a Reality:
- If at all possible, plan ahead – especially in situations that have a tendency to increase levels of stress. Social stories of what’s to come can be reviewed daily or as often as needed. Pull out old home movies from previous holidays that show your family having a great time or enjoying a peaceful holiday afternoon. Remind your child that one of the core elements of this time of the year is “peace.”
- Since we typically have way too many things crammed into the few days just prior to most religious holidays, do your shopping before school lets out for winter break. That way once the kids are home from school, life can be as calm as possible. Take advantage of those few weeks of break to slow down, not speed up.
- Try not to use language that includes things like “We must.. We have to.. We’re late..” etc. As we know, demands and timelines are often stressful in and of themselves. Prepare in advance so that when it’s time to run out the door to get to Grandma’s on time, you’re in no more rush as you would be if you were going grocery shopping on an average day.
- For kids who are easily overstimulated by sights and sounds, keep holiday music to a lower volume than your festive neighbor. Instead of having the house with the brightest set of holiday lights, maybe just a string or two will do. If you do hang lights at this time of the year, seek your child’s assistance. Helping the family hang lights can offer a great way for your child to feel involved in the holiday preparation.
- If you decorate a tree in your home, let your child hang the ornaments and don’t worry if the balance isn’t just-so. You can fix it when they go to bed, or just leave it alone if “you” can take it.
- Online shopping can be a gift in itself, especially for last minute purchases. This will help keep both you and your child from having to battle crowded malls and department stores. If it’s too late for shipping, use online store websites to get gift ideas before heading to the stores; that way when you do have to face the crowds, you already know what you need so that you can get in and out in a jiffy.
- If your plans are to have a houseful of company during the holidays, talk to your child in advance and let them know that it’s ok if they need to retreat into their room when things get to be a bit too much to handle. Let them know that even you become overwhelmed by the chaos that sometimes plays out. If you’re visiting others, talk to the host in advance of your arrival and ensure that there will be a space where they can take a chill-out break if needed.
- Take time to write a letter or an email to family and friends who may be visiting. Let them know about some of the things that may challenge your child when things don’t follow their normal routine. If you’ve got a child who tends to say exactly what he/she thinks, let the family know that as well. Tell them that his intentions are not to offend, but just to comment on his observation. This will soften the blow when he says something that can leave a grandma’s mouth agape.
- Develop a daily schedule for your child, especially if part of your holiday ritual is to visit multiple homes in one day’s time. Let them know approximately how long you’ll be at each location – but be sure not to be too precise, or else they’ll be pulling on your skirt every 5 minutes reminding you that it’s time to go.
- Remember to allow time to let them be kids. If she opens all her gifts and leaves them on the floor just to go play with something that she’s had for 5 years, it’s ok. Sometimes kids on the spectrum need time to acclimate to new toys before they actually begin to explore and enjoy them.
Above all else, sit back (at least for a little while), read or cook with your child as a way to slow things down and truly enjoy who they are and what this holiday season is all about. After all, those are the memories that remain with us for a lifetime.