Help keep the whole family happy during the festive season with these practical tips.
The festive season can bring many expectations. We look at how to keep smiling and enjoy this time with your children.
Holiday Tips for Parents of a Child with SEN
Christmas crowds, lights, smells and lack of routine can make the holidays a challenging time for children with special educational needs. Help keep the whole family happy during the festivities with these practical tips on how to survive it with your sense of humour and festive cheer intact.
1. If you're travelling
Travelling with a child with additional needs at any time of year can be difficult. Holiday travel can be even more stressful. A few ways to make journeys easier for children with SEN include:
Make a list of your child’s favourite toys and accessories on which to rely for a Special Educational Needs Holiday Toolkit. This may include noise cancelling headphones, sensory toys such as fidget spinners, weighted toys (especially for children with sensory processing challenges) and any other particular favourite toys. It’s also advisable to travel with a supply of your child’s favourite foods and snacks in order to overcome any unexpected food challenges. You may find a tablet or personal gaming device handy for limited screen time as well.
2. Visit the local library
While it may not sound like the most exciting place for a holiday outing, for children with special educational needs, the quiet and less crowded library makes for a great option where you can spend a few hours together. At some libraries you may even find games which are appropriate for your child.
3. Stay home and get crafty
Stay home and bake cookies, make paper garlands, cut snowflakes, or otherwise have crafty fun with your child. If you need to do most of the work, that’s ok. We suggest a number of projects that can be completed in a few hours with minimal fuss – scroll through our Facebook or Instagram pages for ideas.
This is also an important way to not only connect with your child at this special time of year, but also to keep them occupied in a stimulating way that inspires confidence and feelings of success and accomplishment. These exercises are a tool for helping your child stay mentally engaged during the time off from school and tutoring.
4. Worry less about age-appropriate experiences
Many children with special educational needs are “younger than their years.” A 12-year-old with special educational needs may for example, still get a big kick out of holiday-themed Thomas the Tank Engine toys or a visit with Santa.
Consider choosing a few toys and experiences that will resonate with your child even if they’re really intended for younger children. After all, many adults still love watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
5. Communicate expectations
Communication is a big factor in successful holiday survival with a child with special educational needs. Communicate with your child what will be happening during their holiday so that they feel secure and prepared.
Share with the family and friends you may be visiting what your needs are. For example, let them know if your child needs downtime and may not be able to participate in some of the usual family activities. Communicate with them ahead of time if your child can only tolerate a certain amount of time at a gathering. Let them know you may need to retreat to your room or back to your hotel and may miss part of the celebration.
If you are travelling as a family or entertaining during the holidays, communicate with your partner or spouse what the plan and expectations are. Will you stay for an allotted time and leave at that time regardless? Or do you prefer to watch for those signs special needs parents recognise that it might be time to go (or wind down a party)?
6. Be gentle with yourself and your child
It’s normal to feel frustrated when a child with special educational needs doesn’t seem to “get” the holidays or appreciate what you do to make the season special. It can be equally difficult to endure the stares and comments of well-meaning family and friends who simply might not understand why your child isn’t appropriately happy and engaged.
Whilst you cannot change the behaviour or feelings of other people, you can change your own.
To make the holidays easier for everyone (including you):
· Remember that the holidays aren’t for garnering praise or appreciation; they’re for building relationships and memories (and, for some people, for remembering the religious significance of Christmas). If you’re able to remember even a few special moments when the holidays are done, you’ve succeeded.
· Give yourself permission to walk away from difficult situations. While some extended families and friends can be wonderful with children with special educational needs, others…aren’t. If your family falls into the latter category, it’s ok to cut a visit short. You’re under no obligation to stick with an unpleasant situation.
· Get support when you need it. Maybe you really need to attend a carols evening, a church service, or a special party even if your child can’t or won’t. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a little respite care from those in your support network so that you can have the experience that you need in order to recharge and remember why the holidays are special.
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