By Claudia Faierman Shulman
Every year, many parents of children living with autism approach the holidays with anxiety and dread. As a fellow member of this community, I do understand why but I believe that it doesn’t have to be this way.
As a game inventor, I found that using my principles of relationship-building through fun and games can be helpful in making great memories that last forever.
Here are the top three strategies that have worked for my family, friends and network of game-tester kids.
1- Plan to have fun.
Can fun be had if you plan for it? Absolutely. We do it all the time when we plan family vacations. The holidays are no different. Part of the reason we may feel stress sometimes is because we worry too much about things that we cannot control. For example, there are environmental demands, interactions with others, and most importantly, the state of children on any given day that we need to monitor. Instead of burning our energy on such concerns, let’s use it to prepare for a fun experience. Strategies can be as simple as bringing engaging material for our children, such as books, toys, or games to be shared. In addition, I always bring plenty of their favourite snacks to make sure they eat and feel comfortable. I also find that giving children opportunities to rest before the event is very effective.
Thrive Rule #1: Plan to have fun. Thwarting unwanted situations is necessary but saving energy to plan for the fun stuff is just as important. photo: Sensational Learners Inc.
2- Give your kids something to look forward to
Abrupt changes, elevated noise levels, and strange odours can distract our children from the events that they’ll truly enjoy. It’s up to us to help them integrate their interests with the rest of their activities and that means highlighting them so that our children never forget what they should look forward to at the gathering. Thus, it’s a great idea to find out in advance what the party has to offer your child. Perhaps there is a pool table or a puppy that they’ll get to see. Additionally, in support of being social, teach them how to talk about their interests with others. Hint to relatives what would be great conversations starters with your child. They’ll thank you for it.
Dr Lucy J. Miller, Founder of the STAR Institute and an avid user of Claudia's My Feelings Game, wholeheartedly encourages parents to play with their children. photo: Sensational Learners Inc.
3- We must relax, enjoy, and let loose!
We all know that children can sense our stress. Yet, sometimes, we can’t help but use every unit of energy to keep things from falling apart. I find that these are the times when we need to put ourselves on the priority list and remember that we deserve to have fun too! For me, a glass of wine does the trick :)
Let’s shift our attention away from the negative. Be light and be positive. Life happens! Regardless of our plans, there is always potential for an outburst in a social setting. In such moments our focus should be on how to support and assist our child to return into a calm and regulated state. Remember, your family and friends will love you no matter what and the ones who are judgmental, should not really count.
We are powerful models for our children and if they see that we are enjoying ourselves, we give them more opportunities to pursue their own holiday cheer. We are not here just to survive, we are here to thrive by focusing on being happy and making our kids and families happy too!
Let’s get ready to celebrate a joyous and meaningful holiday season!