This time of year is exciting while we wait for Santa and his reindeer and all the rest of the holiday fun. Unfortunately, along with all the fun can come anxiety!
Anxiety in your child can look like worrying and crying, but it can also look like an increase in rigid thinking, noncompliance, sleep disturbance, and altered appetite.
Here are a few techniques to help with holiday transitions and help keep this a joyful time for all:
- One of the most effective techniques for dealing with transitions during the holidays is using a visual calendar to indicate the differences between days. You can click here to download and print a simple calendar for the holiday break.
My encouragement to you is even if you think your child is going to be fine, sit down with him and mark the days that things will be “different”. This can include relatives coming over, playdates, travel dates, days at mom’s house or dad’s house, Trail of Lights visit, and when we return to school, etc. Hang it on your fridge or in your child’s bedroom and refer to it often. If the plan changes, make a quick note on the calendar. Allowing your child to see what is coming next automatically decreases their underlying anxiety.
Some children need a more detailed plan for the day. It is not always necessary to have a formal visual schedule. Often, a quickly jotted list on a post-it note is sufficient. You can make the “plan” for the day with your child the night before at bedtime or at breakfast. It might look something like this…
Carefully choose the amount of information you want to share with your child about upcoming events. Children on the Autism spectrum function better with factual information about what to expect, but don’t give too much information too soon. That can actually backfire and create the anxiety you were trying to avoid in the first place! It is okay to “drip-feed” information as it is needed.
Hidden rules are a giant minefield for our kiddos. The more you can think through the hidden rules of a situation and clue your child in before the event (or even during if necessary) the more competent they will feel, the calmer you will feel, and the more fun everyone will have.
Finally, remind your child that if the noise, crowds, excitement, and new experiences start to feel not fun, it is okay to say “I need a break”.
Always respect your child’s need to take a short break away from all the “fun” stuff. Talk about ways your child can take a break in “expected” ways (go in the bathroom for a few minutes, ask to take a walk with a family member, take headphones to block out noise if your child is especially sensitive to sound). If your child does start to have a meltdown, make sure to reassure him that it is okay and that he can use his calming plan next time.