Winter break from school gives families a reprieve from battles over homework and schedules wrought with deadlines and time constraints; however, two weeks of unpredictable routines, sensory overloads and changes at every turn can wreak havoc on nearly any family. But, take a deep breath and consider some of the things that you can do to offset the challenges you might be expecting. These include:
1. Avoid Saturdays at the malls like the plague and let cyber-shopping be your friend. The chaos, noise of large crowds, and long lines will not only stress your child out, but even you yourself.
2. Before you leave the house for trips, parties, or parades, have a quick “family meeting” to review the expectations and show off some of the visuals that you’ve created to make the day as structured as possible. Create a daily calendar that includes family gatherings, parties, or day trips.
3. For kids with sensory sensitivities, be sure to have items that they might need in tow at all times. This could include things like ear plugs or headphones for noisy environments, spinners, chewy foods, or a small container of clay or playdoh.
4. Don’t get yourself into situations where the family has to rush to get to someplace without enough time. Kids on the spectrum, particularly, hate being rushed and can easily be thrown into a pit of anger. Then, there’s no telling what will come next. Be sure to provide a head’s up about changes and transitions, and don’t forget to leave enough time to enjoy the journey.
5. If you plan to visit with family members you rarely see, spend time looking through photos or at family home videos prior to your visit. Play memory games, matching names to faces, which will help your child feel more comfortable with people they haven’t spent time with in a while.
6. For those who can easily become over-stimulated, pay close attention to the holiday decorations you choose. Twinkling lights in every room, combined with foreign smells from the kitchen and foods that aren’t normally offered at mealtime, can become too much to bear. Letting kids be a helper in the decorating process can offer them the opportunity to show you where their line of limitation stands.
7. Speaking of mealtime, if your child has food sensitivities or allergies, shop and pre-cook alternative foods in advance. You can never be too prepared for a relative or neighbor who shows up with a basket filled with gluten-packed goods.
8. Kids want to feel connected to the holidays too. Include your child in the planning and implementation process of pulling off a great holiday experience. Give them jobs to do, like stirring the cake batter, folding napkins, or making sure everyone’s pie has a dollop of Cool-Whip. Shower their assistance with praise – this is not a time for correcting or straightening, but for acceptance and recognition.
9. Relax your expectations and definitions of what a true holiday season should include. Most of us do not need a full blown exhausting experience to reflect that we had a good time. A few positive minutes and memories made of smiling children can be as priceless as a golden doubloon.
10. Family routines change drastically during winter break. Bedtimes are later, meals happen when they can, and therapy schedules may not exist at all. A few days before heading back to school, make sure to get your house on track by putting your normal routine back in place. After all, it may take the whole family a few days to adjust, making January a bit easier on everyone.
As parents, sometimes we feel like we need to do it all. During this time of the year, focus on relaxing your own expectations of what is fun for the kids, and simply enjoy the moments that you’re given – and ENJOY.