The days are shorter. The air is cooler. And the season changes rapidly with colors of orange, brown, and gold to holiday decorations of green, red, and silver all in a matter of a few weeks. No doubt, it is an exciting time in the year when parties, festivals, and family gatherings are in full swing.
Parenting a child with a special need can be especially tricky this time of the year. Our expectations, our family’s expectations, and the expectations of others can be challenging and often bring feelings of being overwhelmed, frustration or guilt. But a few simple tips can bring fun and joy back into the holidays.
Try not to change your established schedule too much.
This might be difficult if you’re attending another person’s house, but, if you can, try to schedule and arrange events in relation to your child’s established schedule. If you eat at a certain time but dinner and lunch is scheduled later, allow your child to eat at his established time, perhaps in another room.
Not so much attention, please.
As a mom, I understand the joy of watching your child (or any other child) opening gifts. However, a lot of attention may be too much for some children. If you notice your child opening his gifts with hesitation or struggling to open a gift, don’t pressure them. Allow them to open the gift when they are ready or allow time in between gift openings.
Tone it down, if you must.
If you have a room filled with people, lights, smells, photography and music, all of this can be sensory overload and can become overwhelming. If you notice your child struggling with all the different sensations, take a moment to take a walk, leave the area, or take a break. Don’t force the issue of staying there for the appearance.
Empathy, not sympathy.
Often, as parents, and advocates of our children, we want people to understand and express empathy for our children, not sympathy. It is our job to model this understanding and explain that your child may have a special need, but that does not define him or her. Focus on the positives, especially at family gatherings with relatives you may not see often. Let those around you know of all the potential, growth, and successes your child has experienced. Holidays are about celebration, spending time with the ones you love, and experiencing the joy of these times. Give yourself permission to let go of expectations that are demanding or difficult to achieve.
And finally, remember that even in the modifications of daily living, including celebrating holidays, you are creating beautiful memories and life moments for you and child.
Nanci Scarpulla, M.Ed., ALC