By Lexi Walters Wright
For some kids with sensory, self-control or attention issues, exchanging gifts can turn a fun event into a holiday headache. But you can help keep your child from getting frustrated about gifts and enjoy getting and giving presents. Here’s how.
Give her a run-through of what the day will look like with as many details as possible. “When we get to Aunt Jen’s, we’re going to open stockings first and then have breakfast. Then it will be time to take turns giving presents after breakfast.”
If your family has specific methods for present exchanges, discuss and practice those beforehand. “One at a time, each person will open one gift. When you open your present, look at me so I can write down who gave you what. Please remember to say thank you!” Also remind your child that wrapping paper and bows get damaged when gifts are unwrapped, and that’s OK.
What might your child do or say if she’s disappointed by what she receives? What if she opens two of the same gift? Role-play these possibilities, as well. Agree on a code word, look or gesture that you’ll use if she needs to calm down and check in with herself to see whether she’s behaving appropriately. Let her know that it’s OK to ask you to take a break from the activities if she gets frustrated.
Make sure all tags for gifts are marked clearly. If your child has difficulty reading, consider separating her gifts into a pile or bag to reduce confusion. You can also use different wrapping paper for each person. If motor skills are a problem, keep scissors on hand for paper and bows that won’t budge. Intersperse gifts that you think your child will really like so she doesn’t become fixated on one or uninterested in opening the rest.
Pause the present-opening every once in a while. Kids may welcome some time to play or try on their gifts. A snack or a quick run around the yard or basement can release energy.
Kids of all ages can appreciate the satisfaction of finding or making the “perfect” gift for someone else. When a person receiving a gift from your child opens the present, try to make sure that everyone is paying attention. A positive reception can help fuel your child for opening her own presents.
If family and friends ask what to get your child, be ready with gift ideas you know your child would love. Or offer substitute ideas if what they have in mind wouldn’t be good. “A skateboard might be tough for Henry. He’d love a marble run, though!” Many families find that making an Amazon Wish List can be incredibly helpful for gift-buyers—after all, they want your child to love their gift!
Opening presents is supposed to be fun, not frustrating. But for kids who have trouble with impulsivity, gift exchanges can be full of potential pitfalls. Here’s what to look out for, and how you can help before the big day and in the moment.
The holidays are hectic enough. But if your child has ADHD, her behavior may create extra challenges. Careful planning and adjusting your own expectations can help you both avoid trouble spots. Here are 11 strategies to try.
Lexi Walters Wright is veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Bob Cunningham, Ed.M., serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.
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