Is your holiday schedule overcrowded and a source of anxiety to the whole family. As Autism moms, not only do we have to worry about the normal hustle and bustle of the holiday season, but the disruption to routine can often upset our children – causing meltdowns at holiday parties and relatives’ houses. But you’ve got this! A little bit of planning goes a long way in stressful times.
An Ounce of Prevention… Proactive Parenting Rocks!!
Do some planning, and rest assured that you’ve got things in hand this year. Before heading out to a party or event, consider the following:
- Is there a quiet location your child can visit to “decompress” if things get to be too much? Ask if your host could offer a quiet spot for your child to “chill.” Even better, ask in advance.
- Can you pack a couple of trusted activities (iPad, book, Nintendo DS etc.) if your child isn’t going to have kids to “hang” with?
- Have you designated a “go-to” person in the event that your child isn’t able to find you quickly?
- Do you have one or two trusted friends or family members lined up to keep an eye on your child so, you can focus on visiting for a period of time?
- Have you brought along snacks in case the food offered isn’t suitable for your child?
Don’t be Afraid to Leave Early!
If you’re feeling tenuous about attending an event that may be challenging for your child, it might be wise to give your hosts a “heads up” that you may leave early. Doing so could avoid “last minute exit” stress and save you having to explain or make excuses! It’s better to leave early, but on a positive note. Both you and your child will be able to celebrate a successful evening.
Look for the Positive; Capture the Moment
Even if you have “hiccups” during your visit, be sure to spotlight a successful moment. “Jason, it was so nice to see you having fun with Anna. I could tell that she was enjoying playing with you. I noticed that you were sharing really nicely. Good for you!”
When you spot your child enjoying a special moment, snap a picture! I’m constantly encouraging clients to capture moments of competence. They’re wonderful to look back on, and remind your child that he or she can enjoy family events.
Trying to fit too much into your schedule may come back to haunt you! Even families that I work with need to be reminded to build in down time. We’re culturally programmed to “go, go, go!” Too often we fall prey to our schedules and forget that the reason for the season is joy and peace!
Visits with friends and family are part of the holidays, but be reasonable, and keep your child’s needs in mind when making plans. Reserve must-attends for friends you don’t see often. If you’re visiting relatives out of town and have a long drive, make sure that your child has down-time the next day. Graciously passing on an invitation may save you and your family from wishing you had, and avoiding a “nail-biter.”
Remember the “Rain-barrel” Theory!
What is it that causes the rain barrel to overflow? That one, last drop! Think of your child’s tolerance for “over-stimulation” as a cup. What happens when the cup gets too full and overflows? You guessed it.
Here are some things to think about:
- When you can, operate from a proactive perspective, rather than reacting after the fact. It’s always easier to prevent a meltdown than to recover from one.
- Do you have a plan to minimize your child’s anxiety?
- Do you know what your child’s threshold is?
- Are you aware of signs that your child’s anxiety is mounting?
When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get… QUIET??
Have things gotten away from you and your child? It happens to the best of us. So what to do when your child is melting down? Here are some tried and tested strategies that are guaranteed to minimize the duration of your child’s outburst.
- Try not to lecture or scold. Think back to your last meltdown! As you were ranting and raving, was the recipient of your outburst quiet or did he/she give it right back to you? I can promise you that your fury would peter out faster if the other person didn’t engage. While it isn’t easy to keep your cool in the moment, is it worth it to “zip it” for the sake of helping your child settle faster? Probably!
- How you react to your child’s meltdown will have a tremendous impact on your child’s recovery time. Even if you’re extremely anxious on the inside, do your best to send a message that says, “I know you’re upset, but you’ll be OK. I can’t fix this for you, but I am here.”
- Reduce your language. The fewer words you use, the better! When your child’s anxiety is sky high, he will be able unable to reason with you if you launch into a lengthy diatribe. Processing abilities plummet when anxiety escalates. Short statements that describe what you see are best. “You’re having a tough time. Let’s look find a quieter place.”
Children Do Well When They CAN!
Meltdowns are often avoidable, but they are inevitable at times. If you do find yourself in a tough spot, try to remind yourself that your child did his or her best. Try to pinpoint where things went off the rails, file it under “lessons learned,” and let it go! At the end of the day, your best is good enough, and so is your child’s. When you tuck him into bed, remember to tell him that you’re proud of him. If you can, spotlight something funny or nice that happened during your visit, and share a smile and a warm hug.
Happy Holidays! I hope your upcoming year is filled with joy and peace.
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