The holidays will be different for many kids this year. They may have to miss out on favorite activities or celebrate without friends and relatives. They might get fewer gifts than usual or have a different type of holiday meal.
Kids who learn and think differently can have a hard time coping with holiday disappointment. Some struggle with change. Others have difficulty managing emotions. Keeping kids in the loop about changes helps them be prepared. But finding solutions can help them feel empowered.
These five ideas can reduce disappointment and show your child that there are different ways of celebrating.
1. Hold a brainstorm session with your child.
There’s a lot of uncertainty and loss around the holidays this year. It can help to give kids a sense of what they can control.
Start planning for holiday changes as early as you can. That will give your child time to adjust to the fact that things will be different. It also gives your child a chance to get excited about and look forward to the new plans you make.
Ask what your child will miss most this year or what changes are the hardest. Then brainstorm ideas for new ways to do things. Give your child a role in making new plans come together. That can shift the focus from disappointment to empowerment.
2. Tweak traditions instead of skipping them.
Ask your child to help come up with ways to reimagine traditions. For example, if you usually host a big holiday gathering, turn it into a small dance party with your household members. (Put your child in charge of the music.) If your child normally bakes holiday cookies with cousins or friends, suggest baking separately and then meeting outdoors to exchange cookies.
And if you’re cutting back gifts, change how you exchange them. Try creating a gift scavenger hunt. You can hand out one present and then send your child to find smaller ones or treats you’ve hidden around your home.
3. Build new activities around your child’s interests.
After spending more time at home with your child this year, you may have noticed strengths and interests that you hadn’t seen before. Use those insights to create new ways to celebrate.
For example, if your child is into art, suggest drawing a picture of your usual family gathering. Your child can email or mail the drawing to the relatives you won’t see this year. Your child could also ask relatives to submit their own drawings for a family holiday album.
If your child likes to perform, suggest putting on a holiday show at home. If you’re able to, you might record or livestream the show for friends and family who aren’t there in person.
4. Prepare a new Santa story.
If Santa plays a big role in your holidays, you may need to explain some changes to young kids who “believe.” Do this as early as possible.
For example, your child may not be able to visit with Santa or get too close this year. Explain that Santa wants everyone to stay healthy and needs kids to help him with that. Meanwhile, your child could make Santa very happy by writing to him or sending him a drawing.
If Santa is bringing fewer gifts, you might need to give a reason. You can explain that Santa wants presents to be extra special this year so he’s not bringing as many. Or that he’s keeping people healthy by not spending too much time in each home. (If your child is older or doesn’t believe in Santa, it’s better to be honest about why you’re scaling back.)
5. Find new ways to connect socially.
It’s hard to make up for not being with people you love and normally see at the holidays. But you can help your child find other ways to connect and celebrate together.
Give your child options, like playing an online game with a grandparent or joining a social network for kids with cousins. Kids can also organize a family card exchange. Older kids might work with relatives to plan a future family gathering.
Some activities can continue beyond the holidays. Talk to your child about keeping up with new traditions, and point out how good things can come out of bad situations.
Holidays in general can be hard for some kids who learn and think differently. To help your child manage the holidays, download our holiday behavior worksheet. Get holiday tips for kids with food sensitivities. And learn what to do if your child has a tantrum over gifts.
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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.
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.