Years ago, having visitors in our home during the holiday season was a huge source of stress for my daughter. It did not matter who it was either. Holiday gatherings during holiday season were extra challenging for several reasons.
1 ) Someone was ‘invading’ her safe place.
2) This someone was interrupting her regular routine.
3) She worried endlessly that something about that person, or something they’d do, would bother her.
4) If that someone tried talking to her, playing with her or touching her or her things – she would be sent over the edge.
Social activities and interactions became so upsetting for my daughter that we started limiting such visits or avoiding them completely. However, that we knew that avoidance wasn’t helping my daughter learn to cope or give her opportunities to practice the fantastic skills she was learning from her occupational therapist.
Supportive Strategies for Holiday Gatherings
With the assistance of our wonderful occupational therapist, we developed strategies to help my daughter ease through visits, as well as, help the visitors feel at ease. Here are a few of our strategies:
Inform Your Guests
The first way to help your ‘sensational’ kiddo get through holiday gatherings is to inform your guests about your child’s specific needs. Now, that doesn’t mean you need a full presentation with charts and statistics. However, provide enough information about your child’s ism, as well as her specific form of it, so that the guest(s) feel more comfortable and have an idea of what to expect. Most importantly, your child feels safe.
Prepare for the Visit
With older children, you can use social stories to work through the visit. Consider a countdown to the day of the visit using the calendar or various apps. Develop checklists to what needs to be done in preparation for the big day.
Remember that organization and structure are key in helping children with isms.
Create a “Me” Place
My daughter had a designated, tented spot on the couch where she curled up with her favorite pillow, her Lamby and her favorite books.
My son had a special “me” place in our hall closet. His place included a few fidgets, a vibrating massager, his favored pillow, a flashlight and his favorite books.
‘Sensational’ kids need to have a special place separate from the rest of the household. We called this special place “Me” Place. As needed, both my children could venture off to their “Me” Place to regroup, recoup and calm down.
Having this space ready and well stocked before guests arrive may ease some stress as your child will have a place to go to when things become too overwhelming during holiday gatherings.
Educate = Fun For All
Visits during holiday gatherings in our house were very uncomfortable in the early years because visitors never knew what they could do with the kids.
Fortunately, Grams now understands the varied sensory needs of both of my children. She’ll bring activities they can all do together, bearing each of their needs and abilities in mind. She will bring over fine motor and ‘touchy/feely’ crafts. She will spend an afternoon of fun baking in the kitchen with the kids.
Additionally, we have given Grams specific sensory diet activities she can do with each of the kids during her visits. Grams partaking in all these activities builds up trust with our ‘sensational’ kids. It also gives Grams a way to connect with and have fun with her grandkids in ways she couldn’t before.
Create Countdowns to the Transition
Consider implementing some form of a countdown system for holiday gatherings. We established a countdown for when a visitor is coming as well as to when the visitor is slated to leave.
Arrival: “One hour until Grams will be here.”
Departure: ‘In about 20 minutes, Daddy will take Grams to back to her hotel.”
These countdowns helped our kids stay organized and on track because they were informed as to what is coming and when.
Counting down time allows for the opportunity to have a little talk or other establish another cue in between each activity during the visit. For example, “Let’s have another 10 minutes doing _____, then we can _____.”
Counting down is a simple way to keep that structure and routine strong, even when there’s something new added. Explore some countdown ideas below:
Visits during holiday gatherings or any time of year for that matter don’t have to be stressful. Although we can’t possibly prepare for everything, we can do what is in our power to make visits fun, interactive and as memorable as possible.