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Surviving the Holidays: Tips for a Parents of a Child with Special Needs

Posted May 22, 2016

Ridge Zeller Therapy's Sarah Jordan Strong, M.S., CCC-SLP has some great tips for parents to help with holiday stress.

What?  Holidays are stressful?

Yep. With all of the holidays we celebrate, the end of the year is an exciting time for many of us.  At the same time, it can be very stressful, especially for families of children with disabilities.  Here are a few tips to keep in mind as we enter the Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas seasons.

  • Be sensitive about food. Some children have allergies and others have significant food aversions, which can be much more severe than just not liking to eat your broccoli.  If your nephew doesn’t want to eat your world-famous pumpkin pie, don’t push!  It just means there’s more for everyone else. 
  • Use a calendar. The change in expected routines can be very exciting but also disorienting. For kids with disabilities, it’s often both at once.  For some children, a calendar can be very beneficial.  You can review the date and the wait time for the next big event each morning.  You can even add important milestones like when family will be visiting, to reduce the sense of unpredictability. 
  • Find some pictures of your holiday celebration from last year and look them over together. This can create a sense of continuity and allow you to focus on the positives that come with the season. 
  • Create and review a plan with your child in case things get overwhelming at a party or event. There’s nothing wrong with needing a little break.  Decide whether you’ll go to the car, take a walk, or go to a designated quiet place in the house. 
  • Communicate as much as possible with family members who perhaps only see your child at the holidays. Sometimes people may not be completely receptive because they don’t understand the disability in question, but more information is usually better than less.  If certain things like being hugged or pets are stressful for your child, let people know. 
  • Let your child participate in planning as much as possible. He or she might like picking out Christmas gifts or decorating, and preparation can help demystify the process or event. 
  • Read.  We all know how beneficial reading is for children. The holiday season is a perfect chance to go to the library and choose some seasonally appropriate books.  You can also think about taking the chance to read up on holidays your family does not celebrate and talking about diversity and cultural differences. 

Parents, you are the real experts about your children!  Have you found any strategies that help your family to navigate the holidays?  Feel free to comment and let us know. 

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