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…
If your child is a time-conscious kid, just add ballpark times, but emphasize that they can change. If
they do change, make the change in WRITING!
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.
Preview the “expected” behavior before social events or new experiences. You can discuss what they can expect to see, hear, and do and what others expect to see them do. Discuss any “hidden rules” of different environments. Hidden rules are those things that no one explicitly spells out for us, but we are supposed to just “know”. A few holiday examples might be: if you get a gift that you don’t like or already have, you smile, say thanks, and take it anyway or if you are served food that is not your favorite, you either take a little on your plate or politely say “no thank you” and choose something else – you do not announce to the group that it is disgusting!
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.
Remember, the focus is on growing skills to be more flexible in different circumstances, improving perspective taking skills by recognizing the thoughts and feelings in others, and celebrating the use of coping strategies to stay calm and get needs met appropriately! Improvement in those areas is the best present of all!
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for sharing your children with me every day. I am the luckiest teacher at Baldwin! With love, Mrs. Hively