Family traditions can add a lot of joy and meaning to the holidays. But some of the activities you’ve always looked forward to may not work for your child with learning and attention issues.
If she has sensory processing issues, for instance, picture taking with Santa might be stressful. If she has ADHD, sitting through the holiday pageant could be hard.
The idea that your long-standing traditions aren’t a good fit for your child can be disappointing. 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 that draw attention to her weaknesses?
- Why is this tradition important? What pieces of it matter most and what changes can you make that will preserve 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
Sometimes coming up with alternatives to familiar activities is fairly easy. Just a few changes can make all the difference.
Here are examples of tweaks to commonly stressful holiday activities for kids with learning and attention issues:
||Might Not Work for Kids With…
||Ideas for Reinventing It
|Hosting a latke-making or cookie-decorating party
- Sensory processing issues (cooking smells, too much activity and noise)
- Trouble with fine motor skills (making or decorating treats)
- Attention issues (multi-step cooking processes)
- Limit the party guest list to a smaller, more manageable number.
- Buy and serve takeout latkes or cookies. Or hold a potluck-style exchange, in which everyone cooks at home.
- Choose a bakery or restaurant to visit as a family for a seasonal outing.
|Taking turns reading A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve
- Ask your child to retell (or act out) the story as she remembers it—or wishes it went.
- See A Christmas Carol performed as a play.
- Listen to an audiobook version while sipping hot chocolate.
|Taking a driving tour of elaborate holiday light displays
- Issues with hyperactivity (sitting in one place or being buckled into a car seat for long stretches)
- Sensory sensitivities (bright lights, steamy car)
|Volunteering to prepare meals at a local food shelter
- Social skills issues (interacting with guests)
- Communication issues (talking with or understanding unfamiliar people)
- Executive functioning issues (staying on task while preparing meals)
- Help prepare the space the day before, when there are fewer people.
- Have your child collect canned food from friends, neighbors or family.
- Have her go through her toys and donate gently used ones she doesn’t play with anymore.
There are many other ways to make the holidays go more smoothly. Explore strategies for choosing gifts. Find tips to help kids with social skills issues cope with the holidays. And learn ways to help kids with ADHD handle the season.