When you think of the holidays, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s decorating cookies, gathering around the table with loved ones, or singing your favorite songs. The holidays are filled with joy, but they can also bring on a lot of other emotions, including stress. Parents aren’t the only ones who feel the complicated emotions of the season. Children are susceptible to them, too. And this especially can be the case for children with special needs who rely on structure and consistency to feel secure.
So, what can parents can do to help their children with special needs to prepare for the holidays? Child/adolescent therapists at Indy Child Therapist Aaron N. Hensley MSW, LCSW and Charity Rose MSW, LSW, have some tips to help parents make the season merry and bright for their children.
How can I help prepare my child for the excitement, and stress, of the holiday season?
Hensley: The best thing parents can do is to set schedules, communicate daily plans and set clear expectations. These three seemingly small suggestions will make a world of difference. Children do best when they know what to expect, what is expected of them, and how their day will go. Setting a schedule allows your child to have routine, which helps alleviate stress of “what’s next?” Communication is crucial with children. Communicating with children about daily plans allows children to process changes to their schedule, and also makes them feel like they are part of the planning process. Lastly, let them know what you expect of them. Having clear expectations allows children to know what is expected, and how they can get help if they start feeling overwhelmed.
Rose: Do holiday activities that help remind your child what the holiday typically looks like. Have fun things to do around the holiday, and leading up to it, to make it a good experience for your child. Looking at pictures from past holidays may help them remember the fun of the season.
When my child is overwhelmed, what can I do to help alleviate that stress?
Hensley: First, reduce sensory input — extreme lighting, loud noises, large crowds — and engage them in calming activities. That could be coloring, listening to music, drawing or anything your child sees as calming. Second, process with them. Ask them what caused the stress. Lastly, review expectations, tell them you love them and return to desired activities.
Rose: Do something with them they like to do, and then talk to them about what is making them stressed. You may be able to alleviate some of that stress once you figure out what is causing it.
What can I do to make the holidays less stressful for my child?
Hensley: I frequently use the saying “dysregulated adults lead to dysregulated children.” We all know the holidays can be a very stressful time, and this year will be no exception. However, to keep kids calm and stress-free, parents need to be calm and stress-free. Children will mimic the behavior and emotions of their parents, so it’s very important that we show them how to manage stress. Take time to enjoy your family this holiday season, and remember that nothing is more important than the well-being of your children.