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5 Tips on How to Manage the Holidays With a Special Needs Child

Updated: May 17, 2023

The holidays can be a very exciting time of year. Social outings, special foods, waiting for Christmas presents can all be fun, but for some of our special needs kiddos, it can be a very stressful time of year. Their routine may be broken, their town may look different with decorations, they may feel uncomfortable eating new or different food, they may not be able to tolerate waiting to open the gifts they see accumulating under the tree.

Here are some tips on how to get through it all and maybe even have some fun!

1. Don't over schedule. I can't stress this enough. If your child tends to get overwhelmed at functions, make sure to allow for enough break time in between parties and family visits. Over stimulation can lead to meltdowns and that's not fun for anyone! If you have the option, you may want to hire a babysitter so your child can stay home and stick to his or her routine, or allow them to retreat to their room if they start feeling overwhelmed by the people in their house.

2. Let them eat (or not eat) what they want. On most days we parents want to make sure that our children are eating a well balanced, healthy meal, but if there were ever a time to relax those rules, it would be at a holiday party. If you child is already stressed out and using using all of their skills to "hold it together," requiring them to eat something they don't want to may be what pushes them over the edge. If they just want to eat bread, or for my son it would be just meat, you might want to consider letting them, they can eat more veggies tomorrow and avoid a melt down today.

3. To dress up or not to dress up, that is the question. We may love to dress up our cute boys and girls, and we know Grandma loves it, but for children with sensory issues it may simply be too much. Imagine walking around with a lego in your shoe, it wouldn't put you in a great mood, would it? That's how it feels for some children when they are wearing uncomfortable clothes, and remember it's what's uncomfortable to them, not to you. Some ways to avoid problems is having your child pick out an outfit with you beforehand. Pick something you both agree on and even write it on the calendar so you don't have any issues 10 minutes before you're supposed to be somewhere. If you child can tolerate shopping, bring them with you to try on outfits and let them choose which ones are comfortable wearing.

4. Waiting to open gifts. I once knew a family whose child struggled so much with not knowing what was in the presents under the tree, they decided to allow their child to open the gifts before Christmas and then they rewrapped them and put them under the tree to open again on Christmas. This alleviated significant stress for the whole family.

5. To follow traditions or make your own. Traditions are wonderful and we all love them, unless they are causing undue stress on your family. If traditions are no longer fun, you may want to adjust them to better fit your family. If your child doesn't want to help roll and cut out cookies, maybe they can sing Christmas songs, or read a Christmas story while you bake the cookies.

The holidays are about having fun and spending time with friends and family. Don't be afraid to adjust your schedule or traditions to better meet the needs of your child. No one will have a good time if your child is overwhelmed and melting down.

Photo by Roberto Nickson (@g) on Unsplash

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