Advertisements and TV shows will tell you exactly what the perfect holiday should look like, but if you try to make your holiday season perfect, you certainly won’t make it happy or sane. Any experienced parent knows that as exciting as the holidays can be for children, it can also trigger behaviour and meltdowns – especially for kids with behaviours or Autism Spectrum. Below are my top tips to make this holiday season truly merry for both kids and parents!
1) Treats – Food colouring, preservatives and sugar can be kryptonite for kids. Parents are often sceptical that sweets can cause such problems until they do my six month program. After several weeks of limited dyes or sweets, they see what a terror their child can become if they ‘slip’ and overdose on sweets.
Health food stores are full of treats that are free from dyes and excess sugars and there is a plethora of tasty, but healthy holiday recipes that will keep your kids happy and sane.
Try to keep most meals during the holidays as healthy and scheduled as possible. Counteract holiday indulgences by loading up and crowding them out with healthy choices.
2) Sleep – Sleep is gold for kids and they tend to miss out on a lot of it during the holidays. A late night or two is one thing, but try to avoid regular late nights and erratic sleep schedules.
This will throw off the best of kids and is a guaranteed recipe for disaster for kids with behaviour challenges. Remember, that during the holidays, all that extra over-stimulation and sweets might mean they need more sleep—not less.
3) Avoid Over-stimulation – The lack of routine with holiday outings topped with meeting so many people, new environments and lots of noise can be your child’s undoing. You can’t hibernate, but you can plan and strategize.
If your child is particularly sensitive, plan to arrive early so that your child has time to adjust to the new location and meet a few people at a time.
Avoid rushing, and try to stay as organized and relaxed as possible. Kids, especially children on the spectrum, are known to be reactive to their parents’ moods.
4) Prepare – If necessary inform others on what to expect and what to avoid so that your child isn’t triggered by a well-meaning but uninformed family member or friend. Ask your host if there is a quiet place where your child can go if they become overwhelmed.
Assign an older sibling or cousin who can keep your child occupied so you can enjoy your outings as well. If you know your child will become overwhelmed at the dinner table, then feed them ahead of time in a quiet room.
5) Keep Them Busy – Lack of stimulation can be just as bad as too much stimulation. Maintaining some routine is important not only so that their day is predictable but also so that they have activities. Try to balance the day between more active moments and other moments where they can withdraw and have quiet time.
Don’t feel guilty using iPads or other electronics as ‘babysitters’ during your holiday outings. It’s hours of screen-time that tends to cause problems with kids not conscious screen time.
You work hard all year and deserve a pleasant holiday gathering just like every other parent.
Remember – hope for the best and don’t wait for a meltdown to be your cue to leave!
Wishing you a Holiday Season filled with Health and Happiness,