Busy shopping malls, noisy family gatherings, church services and flashing lights (with a side of tinsel!) can cause a tense sensation in even the calmest person. For children with additional needs, the changes in their routine and environment can feel overwhelming. Thinking about the following areas and putting a few plans in place, may help to reduce your child’s anxiety and make holiday activities a success for everyone.
You know your child
You know your child best. How much can they tolerate? How will they signal that they are not having fun? When is it time to pull the plug? It is often better to leave an event early, on a positive note, rather than stay to the end and risk a meltdown.
Have a plan
Have a plan and share it with your child. If you are going out, identify where you’re going, what you’re doing and how long you think it will take. You might even like to give them a list to tick off along the way. For social gatherings, try to explain the event as much as possible. For example, “We’ll go at 5.00 and have some snacks and then we’ll have a BBQ for dinner and come home at 8.30. The following people will be there….” This helps your child know what to expect and the length of time they must manage their behaviour.
Have a plan and share it with your child. If you are going out, identify where you’re going, what you’re doing and how long you think it will take.
Water, snacks and supports
Get into the habit of always having a drink of water, snacks, and toys /activities on hand. If you are in a hot car, trying to get around the shops or even spending the afternoon with a relative- who the children are less than impressed to spend time with- being able to whip these items out at any moment could prevent boredom or a melt-down. They might even give you the 10 minutes you need to complete something.
Crowds and visiting people
Crowded places and social events are overwhelming for many children. If you know your child finds this challenging, think about;
- shopping at a quieter time of day or using click and collect services
- reminding family in advance that your child is shy and would prefer not to hug or kiss
- asking people if your child could play in a space away from the main group
- helping your child to engage with other children by introducing them and finding common interests
- taking headphones if noise is a concern
- regularly checking in with your child throughout the event
Think about yourself
If you are stressed and rushing about your child will notice and may even have a physical response themselves. Remember to breathe and try to demonstrate how to regulate your own emotions. For example, you could say, “I feel a bit worked up because we’re so busy and late. I’m going to take a few deep breaths to calm down”. Modeling this over time will teach your child to respond in a similar way in stressful situations.
Also, remember that when your child feels overwhelmed you are often their safe place. Try to connect with them and have enjoyable moments. Being funny or silly is often a great way to distract children and lighten their mood, so make the silly season fun!