Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Kids that Struggle

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Ahh the holidays. A time of high expectations and too often, disappointments when things do go as planned.  Surviving the holidays with typical children is challenging enough, but when your child struggles with typical days, the holidays can bring on more fears and stress.  I have some tips to help you survive!

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  1. Stick to your routines! As much as you can, stick to your typical times for eating and sleeping.  If this means you pack a lunch for your child and eat before everyone else has the meal that your are gathering for, do it! I also let typical food choice expectations slide. While I don’t let them just eat candy and desserts, I do not insist that they eat more then bread.  I might encourage them and try to get some on their plate, (mostly for appearance sake and to avoid comments from well meaning family members.) I don’t make a big deal about it.  I was a picky eater and I remember how stressful it could be to be expected to eat things I did not recognize.  One day of bread will not cause lasting damage, (assuming there are no food sensitivities or allergies to worry about).  I always avoided pop for my kids, but this turned out to be really easy as neither of them really like it.
  2.  Talk to family ahead of time.  If your child is likely to have a meltdown, tell your family what you need from them. Maybe it’s a quiet room and absolutely no acknowledgment of the meltdown, even if it’s meant to be helpful and not shameful, many kids prefer to pretend it never happened. Say to them “Sometimes Jimmy has a hard time when we are off our routines (in crowded places, is over stimulated) he might become upset and seem like he’s being rude/disrespectful etc. Please know that we will handle it by going outside, (to a spare room, go for a drive etc.) You can help by pretending nothing is going on, (being kind, helping us get outside, etc.)
  3. Allow your child to use their coping tools, even if it’s electronics! I know, our kids are on electronics too much, sometimes we have to go to survival mode and often this allows them an escape from situations that are super stressful.  I do recommend that you talk to your child ahead of time and agree on games or videos that are calming for them and not ones that make them angry (I know Fortnite does not bring out the best in many kids, but watching silly youtube videos might be ok). Even if you child doesn’t usually get that much electronic time, one day will not ruin them.  Explain that it’s a special situation therefore there are special rules/exceptions. Bring those noise cancelling headphones, chewelry, etc. Whatever your child needs to survive the day, bring it, if possible!
  4. Take breaks with your child.  Many kids get overwhelmed by all the noise, smells and people.  If the weather doesn’t allow you to go outside for a bit, maybe even just go out and sit quietly in the car or find a quiet room to sit and take some deep breaths.  If the weather isn’t wet or dangerously cold, have your child go outside and get some fresh air and maybe run a few laps around the house.
  5. If your child still naps, find a way to get them some rest.  I know this might seem almost impossible, it might mean going for a drive and praying they fall asleep. If they have to miss a needed nap, lower your expectations and explain to well meaning family members that you understand perfectly how children are “supposed” to behave, but special days and higher expectations often result in over tired children and no one is their best when over tired, even adults!
  6. Ask the host to make the space child friendly! If they have precious breakables, ask them to put them away for the day.  It’s not worth the added stress of worrying that your child is going to break something that is irreplaceable.  If you ask and they don’t do it, when you arrive ask where you can place their breakables so that they stay safe. Maybe then, they will take you seriously!
  7. BREATHE!!!
  8. When you are faced with non helpful advice, you have some options…Nod, smile and thank them. Explain that you are under the care of a physician/therapist/guru and today is not a typical day. Ask them when they are hosting a seminar on parenting so that you can set up a time to attend! (I’m a little sarcastic at times!)
  9. PRAY! You will get through it! It will be ok and you are not alone!!
  10. STAY HOME! If going would really cause more stress than it’s worth, stay home, fake an illness if necessary, but do not sacrifice your mental health for a day that will cause emotional scars! It’s just not worth it. If you feel it might be grandma or grandpa’s last holiday, find a less stressful time to visit.

I hope you all have a wonderful time over the holidays. Remember, if you were the only one struggling, I wouldn’t be writing this!

Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

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