How to make the holidays more fun for your child

By The Understood Team

At a glance

  • The holiday traditions you grew up with may not work for your child with learning and thinking differences.

  • Tweaking family traditions can help make them fun and meaningful for your child.

  • Family traditions work best when they include everyone and give each person something they can do well and enjoy.

Family traditions can add a lot of joy and meaning to the holidays. But some activities may not work for kids who learn and think differently.

If your child has challenges, for instance, taking pictures with Santa might be stressful. A child with might find it hard to sit through the holiday concert.

It can be disappointing when your traditions aren’t a good fit for your child. But you may not have to give up the traditions entirely. See if you can reinvent them so they work well for the entire family.

How can you make the experience something your child looks forward to year after year? Here are some questions to ask:

  • What activities might build on your child’s strengths and interests?
  • Are there activities you should avoid that might draw attention to your child’s challenges?
  • What pieces of this tradition matter most? What changes can you make while still preserving them?
  • Ask your child, “What do you like about this tradition? What isn’t working for you? What might make it better?”

Simple swaps to reinvent holiday traditions

Making a few changes to your holiday activities can make all the difference. Here are examples of tweaks to commonly stressful holiday activities for kids with learning and thinking differences:

The traditionMight not work for kids with…Ideas for reinventing it

 

Hosting a latke-making or cookie-decorating party

 

  • Trouble with attention (multi-step cooking processes)
  • Sensory processing challenges (cooking smells, noise)

 

  • Limit the party guest list to a smaller, more manageable number.
  • Hold a potluck-style exchange, in which everyone cooks at home.

 

Taking turns reading a holiday story 

 

  • Dyslexia (trouble reading and understanding what was read)
  • ADHD (trouble paying attention to the story)

 

  • Ask your child to retell (or act out) the story — as it went or as your child wishes it went.
  • Listen to an audiobook version while sipping hot chocolate.

 

Taking a driving tour of holiday light displays

  • Hyperactivity (sitting in one place or being buckled into a car seat for long stretches)
  • Sensory processing challenges (bright lights, steamy car)
  • Take a short tour around your neighborhood to look at neighbors’ lights.
  • Invite your child to craft some indoor decorations for your own home.

 

Volunteering to prepare meals at a local food shelter

  • Trouble with social skills (talking with unfamiliar people)
  • Executive function challenges (staying on task while preparing meals)
  • Ask the shelter if you can help prepare the space the day before, when there are fewer people.
  • Have your child collect canned food from friends, neighbors, or family.

Looking for more ways to help your child enjoy the holidays? Listen to an episode of our In It podcast to get practical tips for dealing with holiday challenges. And learn how one mom simplified their family’s gift-giving strategy to make their holiday less chaotic.

Key takeaways

  • When creating new traditions, avoid activities that may point out your child’s challenges.

  • You can create new traditions that continue the spirit of the old ones.

  • When you’re creating a holiday tradition, consider the values you want to impart to your child.

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    About the author

    About the author

    The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.