Ah, the holidays. Special meals. Special family gatherings. And, of course, our special children! Now, if you’ve read my book, Autism Breakthrough, you may remember that, in Appendix 3, I explain ten holiday hiccups (that can trip us up with our unique kids) and how to avoid them. But, of course, there are more than ten! So here is the next installment: five brand new holiday hiccups – and what you can do to prevent them.
Oftentimes, we just barrel through the holidays, hoping for the best – but not taking the time and focus to make sure this celebratory time really feels like a celebration for us and for our children on the Autism spectrum. You may find yourself an unwitting participant in one, two, or all five of these holiday hiccups. It’s totally okay if you do, but I thought I’d discuss these to give you a chance to proactively sidestep them.
We know we're in a hiccup when our special child is having more meltdowns, when our extended family members appear uncomfortable or at a loss, or when we, ourselves, feel stressed out or burned out. We may blame the hectic holidays, but, in reality, it's not the holidays causing the difficulty; it's the pitfalls we mistakenly step in. This is great news because it means that our challenges are preventable!
Take a look below at these 5 Holiday Hiccups – and How to Prevent Them. You'll be thanking yourself from now till New Year's!
- Obsessing About What Others Think
We all have friends and family with whom we may be spending the holidays that might not fully understand our children’s special circumstances. And we may also find ourselves in public holiday activities with strangers who definitely don’t have a complete understanding. Members of our family and friends may tell us what they think we should be doing about our children’s behavior. They may (with good intentions) attempt to get us to allow our children to participate in activities we know will not be a good fit for our kids. And strangers at public activities may flash us certain looks when our children behave in particular ways. Just remember that these are not the things which make the holidays feel difficult. Rather, it is our own thoughts that stress us out. It is when we start believing that we – or our children – are doing something wrong that these interactions don’t feel good. It’s so important for us to stay strong inside and to hold fast to the belief that we are doing what is best for our children, and our children are doing what is best for themselves. It’s alright that others may not understand or may think differently. We’re not responsible for them. Our enjoyment is in our own hands and no one else’s!
- Comparing Your Child To Other Kids
During the holidays in particular, we tend to see lots of other families with neurotypical children – and all the various activities and interactions in which they partake. When we start comparing our children and our situations to those we witness, we can fall into “the grass is always greener” mentality. We look at what we are not experiencing with our children and take our attention away from enjoying what we are experiencing with our lovely children. And there is so much to enjoy about our time with our children! In fact, one way to sidestep this tendency is to make a list of all of the things that you enjoy about your child and your time together. This can work as a “shield” against “the grass is greener” mentality.
- Being Attached To How The Holidays Are “Supposed” To Be
Believe me when I tell you that parents of neurotypical children do this as much as any of us do! The difference in our case is that, if there is one thing we know for sure, it is that trying to force things to go a certain way does not work with our kids! In fact, it almost always backfires because, the more “push” our children feel from us, the more they dig their heels in (so that they can feel a sense of personal control and autonomy). There’s nothing wrong with making holiday plans with your family. It’s being attached to them that creates that “push” and leads to control battles. And, as we know in The Son-Rise Program®, avoiding control battles is one of the keys to not only helping our children be less controlling, but also to building and maintaining the trust and rapport that is so crucial for all growth in children on the Autism spectrum.
- Overloading Your Child
Another vital Son-Rise Program® principle is not exposing our children to environments that cause them to experience sensory overload. Holidays are a time that is especially prone to these kinds of situations and environments – loud sounds, flashing lights, and jarring smells. So now is the time to put some extra attention and focus on planning your family’s activities in such a way that you will minimize overstimulating your child.
With so many plans, activities, and projects we want to do over the holidays, it’s easy (if we’re not paying attention) to start rushing from thing to thing. Rushing is one of the most overlooked triggers for putting our extra-sensitive children into a fight-or-flight. Doing this can lead to crying, hitting, and control battles that I know you’d just as soon do without this holiday season. So plan everything (including when you wake up) to give yourself and your child lots of extra time so that no one has to rush. You will be so thrilled that you did this!
So often, we get caught up in the trappings of the holidays – the tree, the presents, the outings that have to go exactly as planned. It's okay to arrange fun things, but remember that these are only trimmings. They aren't the gift, they're just the wrapping. The gift is our special child. The gift is sharing sweetness with the people we love. Instead of using the holidays as a planning fest, we can use it to see the beauty in our child's uniqueness, to celebrate what our child can do, and to feel and encourage compassion for our child's very different way of experiencing the world.