Putting the Calm Into the Season

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

It seems as if whenever we talk to anyone, the conversation will often include comments about the crazy and chaotic schedules we all carry. From work to volunteer and social obligations to everything under the sun for our children—school, sports, clubs, playdates—the list goes on and on. It is amazing that we even have the time in the day to breathe. However, as we trudge through our schedules and lists, we end up either going to bed feeling like a hero or a failure, overlooking how this affects our children. I am sure we are all familiar with the tired, cranky, behavioral child that sits down at our breakfast table right next to the tired, exhausted parent.

With the fast-approaching holiday season, we will see our lists expand and our children with more exhaustion, anxiety and excitement. For our children, who already struggle on the average day with routines, transitions and situations, how will we keep calm during the season to make it “merry and bright”? As parents, teachers and therapists, we all play a role in helping to achieve this.

It Starts With You: This is probably the most difficult one for adults. Children feed off our lack of patience, anxieties and stress. Therefore, how do you avoid carrying your own stress during the season? Taking care of yourself and making sure you are keeping your load balanced is important.

Make your own expectations realistic, and figure out what you can let go of. Maybe it is leaving some of those decorations in the box, giving a gift card versus making a gift, or declining an invite. You hold the key that will help you and your children enjoy the calmness of the season.

Keep It Simple: There really is not an easy way to make this happen, and it takes a lot of energy, but it is so important for our children. Children who become over- stimulated need both their environments and schedules to be simple. Appropriately decorating the house or classroom, as well as making sure you make items that are within their reach interactive, is a key step. Sometimes, less is more beneficial.

Try to lessen what you commit to during the season. If you have many events to attend, arrange a way that your child does not have to attend all of them. As parents, we see all the exciting holiday happenings, but choose just one or two to focus on and make memorable. If you try to do them all, they tend to lose meaning and enjoyment.

Simplicity is also important in regard to gifts. Some children tend to shut down when there is so much in front of them. If there is an abundance, it may help to give just a present or two at a time, spreading out the joy. Or even ask family to choose a small gift, or a gift card so that something can be purchased at a later date.

Keep Routines: We all do a little happy dance because the holiday season means days off of work and school. However, just as when you are vacationing, trying your best to keep the routine you normally follow is important. Sensory diets are important, whether you use them to maintain attention for the school day or to keep regulated. Providing the right sensory inputs will help children enjoy the season.

It is difficult to keep time schedules the same, especially with school being out. But baking-in times to calm and regroup can be helpful. And sleep is important for all children.

Use of social stories, picture schedules, fidgets and any other tools should be continued as appropriate.

Read Cues: We adults are better at it some days than others, but reading our children’s cues is important. Knowing when they need a little more or a little less can be beneficial in many situations. So, if your child is anxious and crying about seeing Santa Claus, then read the cues and choose a different day, time or place…or even another year. Many venues are also holding a day with a “Sensitive Santa,” so seeking out those opportunities may be helpful.

This also means that something you had planned on your schedule may need to find a different time to happen if your child is tired, cranky or just not into it.

Use the Season: Take a step away from the chaos and traffic to use the calmness that comes with the season. Spend some time sitting quietly among the twinkling lights, listening to the peaceful sounds of the season. It will also give you the time to focus on keeping it all simple.

Whether in the classroom, your therapy treatment, or your home, keeping these key things in mind will help make the holidays fun and meaningful.

Remember, these are your holidays…write your own storybook!