Getting through the holidays with a child that experiences learning or behavioral challenges can be a difficult time of year for parents. During the holiday months, children will have extended breaks from school and learning.
For many children, this is a time of excitement and possibility. For some, especially children with a disability, it can cause extreme anxiety.
School provides a constant schedule that is predictable. The holiday months are anything but that.
For many families, holidays are filled with unpredictability which can be difficult for children who struggle with learning or behavioral challenges.
Here are some tips to help survive the holidays with a child who has learning and/or behavioral needs.
Keep a Consistent Schedule and Foreshadow Changes
One of the main factors that contribute to struggles in behavior is a change in a consistent and reliable schedule. During school, children have a predictable schedule and know where they need to be.
For the most part, they know what to expect in their day today. Holiday’s and extended time off remove the structure. Not having a predictable schedule can bring anxious and challenging behavior.
It is important for parents to try to keep a consistent and predictable schedule for their children during the holidays. This can be difficult due to family obligations and parties.
When there is an event that might throw off the schedule, parents can foreshadow the event and prepare their children.
Explain to the child when and where the event is going to take place and who will be there. To further prepare, parents can review social and behavior expectations for the event.
Control Your Own Behavior and Reactions
With all the changes and moving parts, challenging behavior will most likely occur. Parents should work to control their own behavior and reactions.
Screaming and yelling at a child with behavioral challenges may only make the situation worse.
When parents can stay calm and keep their tone steady, they have a better chance to de-escalate situations before they spiral.
Keeping a calm demeanor will not only de-escalate situations but can also create learning opportunities for the child. Children are keen to their parents’ behavior and will often mimic it.
If a child sees their parents using their own calming strategy, it may prompt them to use their own or learn a new strategy to utilize in the future.
Create Opportunities for Growth
Extended breaks from school and busy holiday schedules do not have to mean children cannot learn.
Learning is an important aspect of our daily lives and showing children that they can learn, even outside of school, will benefit them for years to come.
Playing games and providing fun learning opportunities for children can help with their academic growth, even when they are not in school.
Furthermore, asking their teacher what their class was working on during break is another option to keep in mind.
Children with learning challenges may forget what they learn over the extended breaks and quick refreshers during their off-time may help them be more prepared once school starts back up.
If a child is old enough, consider helping or encouraging them to find a part-time job.
Many places are looking for hire over the holiday season and it could be a great springboard for the student to learn job skills and get work experience.
Create a Positive Environment
Creating a positive and safe environment for a child with a learning or behavioral challenge will promote their own self-esteem.
Parents should work to avoid negative or put down comments toward their children during these stressful times.
Parents should work to make the holidays and extended time off of school less stressful for the child.
Being consistent with these tips is a great place to start and the next time the holidays come around, the child will be less anxious and more excited!