What conjures up in your mind when you hear the words ‘Christmas Holidays’? Is it a warm, fuzzy picture with all the children around the fireplace singing Christmas carols, laughing and sipping eggnog or does it look more like a bomb has just hit and you are running for cover?
Holidays can be amazing but it brings some real challenges for those who are raising neurodivergent children. So, from the moment that school is out for the holidays until its return, how do we survive?
Hopefully, the following tips can help make it manageable and a bit more predictable for you and your young ones.
Keep a Schedule
Print off December and January calendars for the month. Write in any activities that are planned on a specific day. Use a different colour marker for each person if there are specific activities that only include them. For example, blue means the whole family and red is mom’s day at work etc. Mount the calendar in a spot where everyone can see it.
Try to stick to as normal a routine as you can. In your daily schedule, keep a predictable bedtime, wake-up time and meal/snack times. Use a visual schedule for the day that indicates when each activity will happen. You may use pictures for preschoolers and words for school-aged children.
Plan for mealtimes
Holidays include food indulging but try to stick to usual meal planning, normal mealtimes and healthy foods when you can. Try menu planning and food preparation together with your family. That way they know what is being served and they can help to get it ready.
Include physical activity every day
Call it “recess” or “gym time” or whatever you like as long as there is something physical on a daily basis such as skating, tobogganing etc.
Physical activity also fulfills the sensory need to move your body through space (vestibular input) and supplies pressure (proprioceptive input) through the body. If their bodies aren’t getting the input it needs, you will experience a restless child who will be looking to move! Sleep improves when the body is physically tired.
Set screen time limits
The dreaded screen time! It is so easy to slide during the holidays and make this a free for all. Don’t fall for it! Try sticking to screen time limits such as an hour a day. Try using a visual timer to signal when the time is up. Fill the rest with outside play and family activities. Try to have all screen time complete at least one hour before bed.
With the unpredictability of the holidays, children tend to have more difficulty with self-regulation. Sensory tools that are helpful are weighted blankets, vibration/massage tools, fidget toys, dim lighting and the use of headphones when times are just too noisy for them to cope.
Road trips? Planning is key
Stock up on nutritious snacks, prepare an “emergency” package including new activities, fidgets and magazines/books and allow time for a brief run around and stretch. If you are travelling near bedtime, try to stop, put the kids in PJs to signal bedtime and keep going.
The bottom line is that kids of any age like to know what to expect and they like things to stay the same and predictable. Routine is key and each day try to be aware of sleeping, eating, physical activity and screen time patterns! Wishing you all the very best over the holidays and hopefully, it will be that fireplace version of the holidays☺