This the season for holiday tips for special needs families. Today’s tips from guest blogger, Trish Shaeffer, who is mom to 3 very cute, very active boys with special needs have been field tested and declared both useful and successful.
Useful Holiday Tips for Special Needs Families
The holidays are a joyous time to spend with loved ones being thankful, giving to others, exchanging gifts and wishing for peace. I look forward to all of the wonderful things that come with the holiday season — but, having said that, I admit, it can be a difficult time for my special needs family. Routines and school programs change. Vacation, travel, visiting family and friends, and functions all have accompanying difficulties. There’s too much downtime, too much noise, and way too much food. To make the best of the season, I have come up with some useful holiday tips for families for special needs families:
- Leave some buffering time in your schedule. It is tempting to plan numerous visits, weigh your schedule down with gatherings and get involved in as many seasonal activities as possible to capitalize on the too-brief season. But this can be too much for your special family. Instead, plan for one or two special experiences (aim for quality over quantity) and make sure your child has plenty of restful time before and after an event.
- Bring your own food and supplies to gatherings. If your loved one is a picky eater or on a special diet, come prepared to holiday gatherings with your own food to maintain consistency. This is also a good idea for kids who have food allergies or are on tube feeds. Bring along favorite items that help calm your child, too, like iPads, books, stuffed animals, and weighted vests.
- Build in as much routine as possible. This is hard, but I try to keep consistent wake-up time, bedtime, and routines over the holiday break. I also try to maintain rules enforced during the school year. For instance TV and screen time remains limited. Also, meals are served around the same time.
- Plan activities for the holiday break. Ask your child’s teacher for activity ideas to reinforce what your child is working on at school. This can preserve continuity and reinforce lessons. You can also ask your child’s therapist if there are any activities to benefit your child between sessions.
- Schedule ample help. Take advantage of family togetherness and reach out for a little help during the holiday season! Your “mother’s helper” could be a grandmother, babysitter, local college student, paid nurse or other family member, or friend. Ask for help with your child’s routine or care, Christmas shopping, decorating, baking, cooking, cleaning or all the above. It’s a way to let others and give people who love you a chance to help in what can be a hectic time.
- Avoid crowds. Loud, frantic crowds can be too much for many of us and even more so for our special needs children. Shop during the hours or days that are less busy, or do your shopping online. If a huge crowd cannot be avoided, make sure to allow time for your child to decompress and relax before and after the hustle and bustle. This may help cut down on sensory issues as well as shopping headaches and heartaches.
- Keep calm. Keeping calm during chaos and resisting meltdowns helps children cope with the holiday sights and noises they absorb. Keeping calm is also good for your heart rate and your mind. So count to 10, go to your quiet place, or just have that second glass of wine. Taking mom time for yourself may be just what you and your child needs.
- Say no. You need to say “no” to anything that does not ultimately contribute to your own or your child’s well-being. Figure out which events and activities you must do, and let go of the rest.Simply explain that it will not work for your child or your family. If you decline an invitation, people who care about you will not be offended. Then, opt for a quite night at home instead.
- Take time for yourself. Maintaining a healthy state of mind helps you be a better parent. If you happen to come across me around town, kid-free and deep in a good book at a coffee shop, you’ll know I take my own advice seriously.
- Keep expectations reasonable. We want the holidays to be perfect for our family. Just cherish the time you do have and make the best of it instead of getting frustrated.
- Count your blessings. Raising a loved one with special needs is hard, and we may wish for a normal holiday season. Let the holidays be a time to realize the gifts we have been given — especially those we receive from our children. I am a better person because of my sons. This makes me feel very blessed indeed.
Trish Shaeffer mom of 3 active boys, a 9-year-old and 5-year-old twins who were born 2 months early and have special needs. She’s a peer supporter for Parent to Parent and volunteers with the United Cerebral Palsy Network, Special Olympics, and the United Way. She’s also an equine volunteer at Leg Up Farm. She’s married to her best friend and biggest supporter, Chris Schaeffer.
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