10 Tips for Helping Kids with Special Needs or Social Anxiety Handle the Christmas Season

Most people love the Christmas season, me, not so much. As a parent with a special needs child, I dread the holidays. From family members who just critique and criticize and refuse to understand, to the sounds and lights that will set my son off. Thus, each family event is like tiptoeing around a minefield afraid of the explosions. Such events for kids, even those with ADHD, Autism, or Self-Control issues are supposed to be fun and looked forward to. Yet, some kids, perhaps one in fifty, will have problems. And it does not always have to do with special needs. So, what can we do to make things go a bit easier?

  • You do not have to go to every event. Pick the ones that will be the healthiest for your family. Ones that will cause the least amount of anxiety for your child. There is no need to go to every pageant or church event. Why add stress. Focus on immediate family and close friends. If there is a dysfunctional family member that seeks to cause problems, then, create a boundary, even if that means you do not go. That is OK!
  • Let your child know what to expect. Go over the days activates beforehand and what to may come about and when and how long something is. Also, what they can say, like, “thank-you,” or “it is good to see you,” and even shake hands. Have them ask questions like, “what teams do you like,” or “what movies have you seen lately?” You may even practice, like how to sit at a table with people they do not know well.
  • If they get bored easily or prone to meltdowns, have a backpack with quite stuff they like to do, like coloring books, word puzzles, books, and if necessary a gaming device. To give them ease, also have healthy snacks, a bottle of water, and a stuffed animal or something to give them comfort. Have noise-canceling earphones or earplugs for noisy occasions. And sunglass for overwhelming lights. And see if there is a place they can go and rest if they get overwhelmed or frustrated. This avoids most meltdowns!
  • If there are any rules at the event like no being wild, or roughhousing or house rules at a person’s home like no shoes in the house or no kids in a particular room, and go over with them why.
  • If you are at an event and they are playing sports and your child is allergic to sport stuff, have them keep score. But, encourage them to try to be involved, but do not force them.
  • At gift exchanges, show your child how to react. If they are disappointed with what they get, let them know that is OK, but instead of saying so, choose kinder and appreciative words like thank-you. And maybe save that gift for a re-gift and they can choose something else of a similar value later.
  • Go over a gesture with your child when something is not going well, like whispering in your ear or touching their ear if they can get to you. Then take them out for a break.
  • When families are achievement-oriented at get-togethers, sometimes there is a competition of whose kids are doing better. Instead of engaging or defending, talk that about their milestones and why that is important. Like, “tell grandma about a project you did.” Be positive and not condescending, even when others are.
  • If the gathering is at your home. Give your child a job like answering the phone or the door or greeting people or serving. 

Last and very important, be generous with praise when they do something good, like play with a cousin they do not know well, or how they greeted somewhere. Catch them doing something good. Whisper in their ear that they are doing great.

You will get through this. These tips will help your child be better are relating and have fewer meltdowns. This is the journey of life as parents. We nurture and bring up our children as best as we can with the opportunities and resources we have. As they get older, they will get more comfortable and be able to function in the world better. If we put in the work, they will not have them as adults. If we let it go, then we will create problem adults.

More resources here: https://www.understood.org

Dr. Richard Krejcir is an Author, Researcher and the Director of a nonprofit that does educational training in third-world countries. He is also a Homeschool Coordinator at Method Schools and an instructor in a STEM program and a father of a son with autism.

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