Any exciting day, like holidays or birthdays, bring change. And change is so hard for our little guy, even though he IS excited about special days. Change makes him feel unsafe, and out of control. The consistency and schedule that everyday life brings with school and extracuricular classes are all thrown out the window with the “special things” that happen at school around the holidays, and then when school is out, his exact schedule is off.
Baby J goes on high alert, and his nerves become frazzled during the holidays. There was a time in baby J’s life that things were not safe and could fall apart at any moment, and even though he might not be able to put that into words, might not be able to even remember that exactly, his body remembers…
and the surroundings that become less structured and less consistent around the holidays can make our boy feel unsafe, even if he doesn’t know why.
Excitement, overstimulation, inability to self regulate…all of these things are so hard on our kids! We throw some RAD (reactive attachment disorder), some ADD, some trauma background, and some SPD (sensory processing disorder) into the mix, and we have the recipe for a disaster if we are not careful!
We have learned, after being shocked at some crazy downward spirals over the years, and dealing with holiday aftermath for weeks after celebrations have ceased, that we need to be on top of things going into the holiday season. We need to be prepared. We need to have plans and back up plans, for all of our children. Each of our kiddos reacts differently to the excitement of special days. We have meltdowns, rages, some shut down, some get emotional days later…
We know they crave order, predictability, and structure, our babies do, and we can give them a lot of that, but still? It will not be their usual routine, and sometimes their predictable routine will be thrown off. There are school parties, fun crafts, things we plan at home, gifts to look forward to…all these things, while so, so fun, are going to in some way do some damage.
And we will need to be ready.
So what do we do?
These are just a few very basic things that have worked for us, especially with our little guy…
Looking for the good…it’s not all bad! Did he go the whole morning without crying? Did he use an inside voice for an hour? Did he manage to dress himself without being asked ten times? Look for the good, and praise the heck out of it. Notice it. Sometimes, it just seems like there is none, and you have to look really, really hard! But it’s there…
Sitting out…Sometimes, our little guy sits out and takes a break, sometimes he needs a quiet time in the afternoon and he comes back more regulated and calm. Often, he just needs to go color in the office or read books on the couch to center himself and focus on something. We do stay close, and we limit him to two or three books, or just crayons…we keep it simple.
Sometimes? Our whole family sits out. We might just decide that, as a family, we need to stay home from church, events, something that might overstimulate our kiddos. It might be something we know in advance, or it might be a game-time decision, but sometimes saying that no to other things, is saying the best yes for our family.
Rest…our kiddos have earlier bedtimes, and we are fairly vigilant about the sleep they get. We notice a big difference when they don’t get enough rest, especially in the way that baby J is able to self-regulate.
Exercise…again, especially for baby J, physical activity is very important for his self regulation. Whether it’s running outside, jumping on the trampoline, marching, jumping jacks, or yoga, baby J needs the sensory input that exercise provides.
Keep it simple…when people do get overwhelmed and overstimulated, we simplify. We make everything very simple, from directions, to expectations, to schedules. Instead of expecting little M to do her regular chores and her homework, we might simply ask her to keep her room clean. Instead of expecting baby J to follow his regular bedtime chart, we might just ask him to do one task at a time, and check in with us after each thing is complete. (“go get your pajamas on, then come see me.”)
laugh…kids are hilarious! Our kiddos do funny things, and say crazy things all day. We laugh with them, we make them laugh. Things can be so serious when people are falling apart, and humor really does help to sooth over anxious, frayed nerves!
So much grace. All of it. Grace for our children, grace for ourselves. Grace. They are only human, and so are we. They will fail, we will fail, and then we will pick ourselves back up again and start again, together. We will teach our kiddos, with each new exciting special day, how to handle themselves, their emotions, and their big feelings, and each holiday, and each year will hopefully get better and better, but until then…Grace.