How are you holding up? At the time of the original post, only one week to go until Christmas. Then it will be over for another year. While many try to avoid the overwhelm and excitement at this time of year, it is almost impossible with messages and displays everywhere we turn. I can’t promise you a calm Christmas, no one can, but I can share some tips, strategies and ideas that might help with the holiday overwhelm. There have been some terrific tips shared over the last few weeks, so I thought I’d put a few key ones all in a post as a reference to help you.
As my daughter is older, we are not experiencing too much. Our usual is her desire to start shopping the minute the displays are put out. Buying gift tags, cards, and paper even though there is plenty at home. It has taken a few years for me to be okay with letting her create her own rituals, but also help her understand it is okay to buy early, but we have to respect that not everyone will want to exchange gifts in October or November. She still loves to get gifts and will arrange present exchanges as soon as she can. We are not a religious family, but I have tried to teach her this time of year is a ritual where family and friends gather and if they want, they can exchange gifts. It’s been a little harder to gather the last couple of years, with COVID restrictions, but our circle is small, so the impact on us is not usually significant.
If I were to give any advice, it would be to keep your circle small and not be afraid of changing, adapting, or even creating new traditions that work for you, your children, and your family. Just because it has always been done one way doesn’t mean it can’t be done another. If there are aspects to this time of year that you enjoy, but your child finds it difficult, is there a way for you to still enjoy yourself and find alternatives for your children?
There is still plenty of time to incorporate some of these … and for others, tuck this post away until next year and create an adapted or new plan. Many of these ideas can be incorporated throughout the year.
Here are a few highlights from the FASD Think Tank article, 101 Holiday Strategies for FASD – supporting yourself and your family:
- Create a Go Bag (Busy Bag, Calming Box) filled with items to distract, comfort or keep your child busy or occupied.
- Think about sound, touch, smell, sight, diet, and motor skills.
- Plan ahead: let your child know what to expect, practice or role-play scenarios for what you will encounter (eating, gift giving). But don’t expect your child will remember. (You will still need to cue, support, and supervise).
- Triggers and Memories – are there smells or sounds that may trigger your child. Create a plan of time to be prepared.
- At home, make sure your child can go to a safe spot or if going out, ask the host if there is a quiet place your child can retreat to.
Some ideas from caregivers in Jeff Noble’s FASD Caregiver Success Group, FASD Holiday Hints:
- Vary gift-giving, opening, and displaying throughout the month.
- Fewer decorations and activities, more downtime.
- Pull your kids closer and give them lots of hugs and cuddles.
- Provide choices for your child.
- Speak up and model for your child if they need your help.
A great reminder about what “meltdowns” usually mean versus what people think:
And if you prefer videos, check out: Hark, the Holidays Approacheth! (Preparing for and Avoiding Behaviors During Holidays) from Nate Sheets of Oregon Behavior Consultation. It is 18 minutes long but it is filled with great tips.
He created a Skill-Based Holiday Planning Sheet to go with the video. In the video, he talks about the six major areas that can cause disruptions, dysregulation, escalation, or challenging behaviour.
Six Skills You Should Plan for:
- Handling Changes to Routines
- Sensory Regulation
- Social Skills and Family Interactions
What to do before the holidays:
- Create a schedule for every day.
- Keep parts of the routine. Find a balance between structured and not.
- Have other caregivers lined up to help provide you with a break.
- Have proactive conversations with your child (as appropriate).
- Don’t fool yourself (or in other words, expectations are just premeditated resentments).
- Set up a mental health appointment if you need help with creating plans or ideas for trauma or challenging behaviours.
During the holidays:
- Allow long transitions into the day.
- Use visuals to decrease planning and verbal instructions.
- Go over expectations (as many times as needed).
- Always have sensory items available.
- Check in every day.
Here is a Christmas Calm List from Calm Ahoy Kids:
What about looking after yourself? Many of the tips and tricks we suggest for our kids with FASD work for anyone and any age. Think about the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches that soothe you. Create a special place where you can find items or set reminders on your phone to indulge in an activity. Here are some Holiday Self-Care for Your Senses ideas from Parents Self Care:
Give yourself permission to take a break. Have a plan in place for you. Create your own realistic Holiday To-Do List (like the example below from Positively Present). Do you have someone that can support you?
No matter what tips are provided though, it all starts and ends with what works for your family. You know your children best. You know what they can and can’t manage. There can be trauma or old memories stored deep inside, as well as sensory issues. If your kids can’t manage a big family gathering, why are you still going to big family gatherings? If your child is overwhelmed by all the noise, lights, and sounds, why are you exposing them to all the noise, lights, and sounds?
I get it, you want them to experience what you did as a child because you have fond memories … but we are all different. If we want our children to grow up to respect differences, then we need to be willing to respect their differences and in some instances their trauma histories. If we want our children to grow up to be champions for others, then we need to be champions for them. You may need to change how you do the holidays and traditions, but that doesn’t mean the new ones won’t have just as much meaning. They will have more because they respect everyone.
One tradition or adaptation of a tradition I am seeing more of is with respect to Santa Claus:
What about if you want to help another caregiver, family, or friend?
Think about gifts that are meaningful for them. Even though my daughter is an adult now I would love it if someone gave her a gift of their time. Not give her something that will require more effort on my part but take some effort off me and give her a break. Offer to take a child/teen/adult out to a movie, coffee, or lunch, not just give a gift certificate. Pop over for a coffee or a chat or bring pizza, instead of asking if a caregiver can come out to meet you. Offer to pick up groceries on your next run. You get the idea. Even a quick text or a card or call to say how are you? Send a funny meme. Sometimes caregivers are so overwhelmed they don’t reach out .. so, you be the one to check in with them.
If you are still finding this all overwhelming, here are Helpful Ways to Regulate in the Moment from Wild Peace for Parents.
Just for fun, here is a great message from Father Christmas, produced by National FASD for their fantastic Me & FASD project. He has a special message just for kids (of any age) with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder:
Whatever you do or don’t do this holiday season, I hope you find some moments of calm, connection, and magic.
Happy Holidays from our house to your house.
Please note: If you find you can’t cope, or are experiencing high stress or safety concerns, please reach out to a friend, family member, other caregivers or professional. Phone, text, in-person or virtual – whichever works for you.