(with kids with extra needs)
Let’s be honest, for many children Christmas and special events are challenging! All this build up to one day, where they are overwhelmed with presents, noise, change, unusual foods and often a loud man wearing completely the wrong season clothing calling out to them in shops! Sheesh, no wonder there are melt downs (and that is just the parents!). For children with extra needs, this can be an extra challenging time.
A major tip for supporting children is to be organised. No surprises! For children with anxiety the idea of a surprise is not fun, in fact can increase a child’s anxiety or give them something to fixate on. Involve them in the planning and be clear about the limits. For example, some parents have rules about when children can start talking about their Christmas wishes. Very useful for the child who would start planning on Boxing Day!
It can be helpful to include children in writing a social story about what to expect on Christmas, or reading about traditions so they know what to expect. Remember to be honest when naming the emotions that might occur as this calms the brain’s stress response from the amygdala. So don’t be afraid to use words like disappointment, angry and sad. These are all valid emotions that occur at Christmas time, along with joy, excitement and surprise.
Looking at photos from previous Christmas events is a wonderful way to share the memories but also reduce anxiety about the unknown. Photos also provide a great opportunity to teach social rules and start conversations.
“Remember when Grandma got Dad that funny jumper? What did he say? What could you do?”
A few tips when buying gifts:
- Think about sensory needs, considering all 5 senses. Instruments, cooking kits, slime and perfume kits are perfect for children who are sensory adverse to experiment, or sensory seekers will love the opportunity to be creative.
- Think calming. Swings are fantastic at calming the brain, the repetition is perfect for an anxious child. Weighted toys can also be calming.
- Think Fidget toys! Small toys that can be taken anywhere like rubics cubes, or puzzles are perfect for the child with busy fingers.
- Think special interest. If a child has a special interest, like trains, space or animals, run with it. Help them become experts on that topic and build on that expertise. Special interests are calming to talk about and can boost kids self esteem to be seen as knowledgeable by others. So go ahead and indulge, even if they have all 100 trains, get that one they have been obsessing about, make Christmas magical!
- Think Active! Give activities that can be used after Christmas so kids aren’t overwhelmed on the one day. Tickets to a show (Cirque do Solie looks great!), an adventure day at Camp Cooby or even a MindWare Workshop to learn about the brain at an out-door education centre.
What are your tips for keeping kids calm? How do you stay calm?
I have learnt to be more compassionate with myself and not expect things to be perfect or a certain way. Sometimes being compassionate with yourself is actually the hardest challenge, yet most rewarding gift.
Barb is a Clinical Psychology Registrar, who works with children and young people. She loves using brain based interventions to support families and helping children to reach their potential.
A good day at the office often involves food colour and nerf guns.