Anxiety, behavior and social skills challenges are some of the most common struggles families face during the holiday season. Even typically developing children can become overwhelmed! For children who already face anxiety issues, struggles with behavior, or social skills delays, the challenges keep building.
This guide covers common challenges and things host and family members can do before and during the gathering. You'll also find additional resources at the end, including articles and podcasts you can share with family and friends.
Some of the most common challenges for families with children who struggle from anxiety issues, behavior or social skills delays are:
Don't Forget Sensory!
Many behavior issues are sensory issues in disguise. For example the child who screams and runs away from Great Aunt Mary's hug may not be able to handle her perfume.
For more information, see the Winter Holidays: Sensory Challenges page.
How To Help
There are many ways to support kids who are struggling. What works for your family will depend on your needs. Feel free to pick and choose the suggestions that work best for you.
A "safe space" can be any unused space set up with lower lighting, a favorite video game, or other quiet activities. To prevent anxiety, make sure your child knows that this space is available whenever he or she needs it.
Empower Yourself with Information
When family and friends know what to expect, they can help make the effort to connect with your child. Families may provide information ahead of time, such as:
Reduce/Remove Anxiety Triggers
By thinking ahead and removing triggers, you can make the holidays more comfortable for a child. Some ways that hosts can help include making gift-giving predictable (like this) and giving advanced information for events and social interactions.
Things to Do Ahead of Time - For Families
Scripts and Role Play
Preparing scripts that children can use ahead of time (like these) and then role playing while using the scripts can help reduce anxiety in social exchanges.
These short stories identify a specific situation and teach the appropriate way to behave in that situation. There are social stories about Thanksgiving, for receiving gifts (like this one), and even visiting family and Santa (like this).
Plan time away from the chaos so your child can "reset." This could be a visit to the safe space, a walk, or even going to sit in the car for a few minutes.
Visual and written schedules (like this one) can help children to predict what will happen next and reduce anxiety related to unexpected situations. To learn how to make a schedule, check out this how-to guide.
Back to the Winter Holidays Inclusion Guide.