How to Prepare Your Kiddos for the Holiday Festivities!

The holidays are an exciting time of year, usually filled with family and friends! However, the holidays can also mean stress and anxiety for many children and for you, their caregivers. Holiday parties and other large family gatherings often require significant changes to your family’s daily routine that can be overwhelming, to say the least. Your children are in new and crowded environments, seeing people that they do not regularly see, and are surrounded by unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells.

Wherever you and your family plan to visit for the holidays, here are some tips to help you and you manage the holiday stressors and enjoy more of the festivities this season with minimal anxiety.

Prepare your Child

Help your child anticipate what will happen at these events by marking upcoming dates in the calendar and putting together a social story that highlights what may happen at a given event. You can also prepare a photo album in advance of the relatives and other guests who will be visiting during the holidays. Pull some photos off social media and allow your child to access them freely and talk briefly about each family member.

Holiday Sensory Kit

Pack a bag and add useful things that your child needs to calm down and self-regulate. This might include you child’s favourite snacks, fidget toys, noise cancelling headphones, and blankets or anything else that will help your child cope with being in a new environment.

Bring your own food

If your child is new to many of the foods served at a traditional holiday dinner, be prepared with a backup meal with foods that you know your child prefers. With all of the changes that holidays bring, it may not be easy to introduce new foods as well.

‘Break’ Signal

Prior to attending any events, establish an easy way that your child can communicate that they need a break from the action. Connect with hosts before events and determine if there is a quiet room or space that you and your child can go if they are beginning to feel overwhelmed.

Prepare your Relatives and Friends

For those with minimal exposure to autism, prepare them about how your child may behave and why. Make sure that they understand that you child is not “misbehaving”, but that they are experiencing increased stress due to the new environment. For example, if your child immediately runs out of a room when there are more than a few people, explain that it is not personal, but that they do not tolerate noise well.

Set expectations for what kinds of social interactions that your child is comfortable with. Let family and friends know if they prefer high-fives or waving to hugs, or if eye contact and back-and-forth conversations are difficult or uncomfortable for them.

It’s important to remember to celebrate all of the small victories your child accomplishes throughout the holidays. Each time that they request a break from the noise, speak with an extended family member, and participate in a holiday activity should be met with lots of praise and reinforcement!