I often write about the real life musings of raising a child with extreme behavior disorders. For other special needs parents like myself, the idea of celebrating the holidays invokes a household-wide panic. The music, the lights, the cookies, the break from school…it is the stuff of nightmares, my friends. Our supremely awesome kiddos–you know, those with ADHD, ASD, GAD, ODD, SPD, DMDD, and other diagnosis that affect mood, behavior, and sensory needs–they thrive on schedules, predictability, monitored diet and screen time.
But, girl, you know by day three many of us have succumbed to the normality of giving ourselves 15 minutes of peace and quiet, courtesy of kids’ YouTube and the iPad. I mean, for the love of meltdowns, there is no amount of coffee and boxed wine that could get me through this time of year without a few major meltdowns from my son (and myself).
Special needs parents know that there is no full-proof, magic solution for chilling our kiddos out. If there were, I’d sell the mess out of it and I would be living off of my yacht somewhere in the Pacific. So, this is as close as I could get. Here are five tested and approved in our own home things to try to preserve what little is left of your sanity and attempt to revisit normal-town following the hustle and bustle (see: completely insane freak-out zone) of the holiday season.
Set A Schedule (Even If It’s Vague):
We know our kids need the predictability that comes with a schedule. So even if all you do is tell them in the morning three things they will be doing (some kids need times, others need references like, “after lunch we will..”), this will be helpful to prep them for returning the the more strict schedules provided by the public school system and, hopefully, weed out some of their anxiety that comes with this return. For our son, schedule is key. So, I used to be super prepared and had a Melissa and Doug calendar that had special pockets for our activities and clocks with the time.
Then I had another kid. So, yeah. There’s that. Now, we do a simple Dollar Store dry erase board with the day’s activities and sometimes he can pick, other times, this makes for an easy way for him to lose a privilege should the need arise.
Decrease The Screen Time (like, Yesterday):
Several of the beautiful mamas in my “tribe” (see: the women responsible for my sanity who also have children like mine so the get me) have kiddos who thrive on screen time so they are rewarded with this privilege much more often than our son. For our boy, screen time almost always equals a meltdown. This may come in the form of him losing a game and ending up punching or throwing the iPad, or it may be that (even though we have given him countless ‘heads-up’ warnings of time running out) he totally loses it when his screen time is up. Regardless, there are very few times when it ends well for us.
However, if you are of the variety that screen time is a normal part of your kid’s day so holidays or break time mean more time on the computer/video game/tablet, it may prove best for you all in the end to begin to decrease the extra time online about a week before returning to school. This will gradually ween them off of being used to the additional time and allow them to adjust more slowly and (fingers crossed) without much of an aggressive transition back to the real world when that first school bell rings.
Focus On Meals and Snacks:
Think regularly scheduled eating times and meals that have some semblance of a representative from each section of the food pyramid instead of the food groups recommended by Will Farrell in Elf. I am as guilty as the next mom of counting a couple of Christmas cookies as breakfast and a handful of M&M’s lunch because he ate a cheese stick too, and, well, Christmas. So there!
However, as much as Science confuses me, I am a huge nerd and the research doesn’t lie. Many ingredients found in these types of foods are either full-out triggers or additional irritators of our children’ already destructive behavior such as aggression, outbursts, irritability, hyperactivity, and inattention. So, the quicker we can ween them off of the red and green Oreos and back onto something that at least one time could be found growing from the ground, the better for our kiddos.
Rely On Your Sensory Strategies:
Whether your kiddo is sensitive to specific clothing, needs a weighted blanket, or relies on a sensory body sock for calming, sister-use it! Our son has Sensory Processing Disorder so these have become a part of our day-to-day as we research and learn more about his needs.
The holidays are a proverbial nightmare of epileptic and sensory overloaded proportions. Just consider an average day: sugar-filled cookies, singing carolers, dancing Christmas lights, the crunching of wrapping and tissue paper, the barrage of forced hugs from distant relatives, and the pictures with strangers dressed up in costumes. It is terrifying, especially for our kids who are very easily overwhelmed by even just one thing from this list.
So, rely on what you know or use this as a time to try something new. If you are looking for new ideas, click HERE for our tried and true suggestions.
When All Else Fails, Remember the 3 P’s (Pacing, Privacy, and Peace):
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how many things we try, how many strategies we put into place, or how much we pray or cry…it it just a bad day. So, at our house, we rely on pacing and breathing to calm ourselves (that includes this mama, too). If that doesn’t work, we go somewhere alone. This may just be to another room in the house, outside, on a walk, or (in the case of myself or my husband) take a drive. Sometimes we just need some distance to have our emotions and move forward. The last thing we need to do is intentionally choose peace.
Sister, believe me when I tell you that, on more days than not, our house is a down right war zone. The holidays are no exception, in fact, they are usually worse. So, sometimes we just deal with whatever it is and choose to move forward as a family regardless of the name calling, the things that were thrown, or the meltdown that was so very public it made my stomach hurt. At the end of the day, we will still be a family. No one at Target comes home with me after shopping (even though I am pretty sure, Karen, at the customer service desk is my secret BFF). So let’s just take a tip from that snow witch, Elsa, and let it go.
Friends, parenting is a messy gig. Parenting our kiddos is next-level CIA operative style adulting. Just know that your brand of crazy might look different from ours, but we are in this together! Let’s pour our coffee (or wine) and get started on getting these mental war torturers ready to go back to school!
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