1. Prepare family members/friends for situations that may arise with your child; make a list of his likes and dislikes and the things that would make him anxious or fearful – and share with them.
- Pick empathetic members to be his play partners. They could take turns keeping the child engaged, so you don’t wear yourself out. Don’t try to shield your child from people – social opportunities are rare and can be learning experiences for your child. Show people how they can be helpful – give them something concrete they can do with your child. An uncle might prefer to read to your child, while a cousin might want to play catch with him.
- Prepare your child for changes in routine as much as possible. Use a visual schedule and point to the pictures as you go over the sequence of events. Or, you could build a social story together. Don’t worry if you think your child may not understand everything you’re explaining. Looking at the pictures of people who are about to visit or places you are about to go to will help in reducing some of the anxiety.
- Read holiday themed books to your child. Have them point to various items and activities. Make comments about what you see and read. If they are more verbal, ask them what they think of various activities (“Do you like decorating a tree?”, “Do you like the green ornament or the red one?”)
- When you have someone over, or visit someone, have a box of activities ready for your child to stay engaged. The box needs to have mastered activities like puzzles that the child knows how to take apart and put together, shape sorters, close ended building projects (such as a small set of legos that can be used to make a car), coloring books and materials, workbooks with fun activities (joining dot to dot, mazes, matching). It would help if you practiced using this box every now and then, prior to having guests.
- Have a box of sensory rewards on hand. This could include toys and safe objects that your child can enjoy and get some quiet down time with. This should be somewhat of a ‘surprise box’ to prevent boredom.
- When you visit someone, ask your host ahead of time if they could offer one of their bedrooms as a quiet place to calm down in the event of anxiety, distress, or meltdowns.
- Take turns with your spouse or a friend in taking your child for a walk, to break up a long event, and give your child a break. If your child prefers to bike or ride the scooter, give him choices. Either way, the fresh air and exercise is bound to help.
- Let your child express himself. He might want to decorate the tree in a non-traditional way, or play with the wrapping paper instead of the gifts. Understand that he is a unique individual with his own needs and desires. As long as he is not being disruptive or unsafe, allow him to be himself.
- Relax and enjoy yourself. If you are anxious, it will rub off on your child as well. Don’t suffocate yourself in the drive for perfection. Take a deep breath and learn to let go conventional notions of how the holidays ought to be. Make your own holidays and enjoy them!
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