Once Halloween has arrived and gone with the witches; super heroes and the cast of Glee carrying their stash of candy in trick or treat bags from door to door, I know that the holidays are upon us until the middle of January! Most parents these days have a mixture of dread and dreams of enjoyment in entering the holiday season! Ironically, this time of year which can be so meaningful for most families, can be filled with missed and failed opportunities to connect with each other in a meaningful way due to the hyper energy which reverberates all around us and can pick us up like a swirling tornado. Add to this scenario a child who is highly sensitive to over stimulation and you end up with irritable family members at odds with each other.
A simple goal I have set for our family this holiday season is to allow time and space to connect with each other. Time for quiet reflection alone and together and times for unabashed enjoyment! This will take some planning together so that unrealistic expectations and unpleasant surprises can be minimized.
If you have a foster/adopt child that tends to get over-excited and over-stimulated when there is a lot of sensory input going on in the environment, then one of the greatest gifts you can give that child is to stay home or to limit the number and type of functions you go to during the holidays. Even going to Target to shop may be too much for your child. May be you can plan a celebration night with your child/children for just family, or you and your child. There are many things you can do together and be together which takes some planning and not a lot of money. You can create a dish or menu to shop, cook and eat together; play board games; cards; read together; draw together; play music together; make crafts or do a jig-saw. Each activity will have its own level of energy which you as the parent can orchestrate. The human condition loves harmony and rhythm and variety, but not too much variety as we also experience emotional safety through structure and consistent repetition! It is good to plan quiet, slower paced moments/hours/days in between the active, loud, bright lighted ones.
On the other hand you may have a lone wolf teenager in your household who prefers to not participate in anything, including the family holiday dinner! Your child’s choice, whatever the age may be coming from a need to create emotional safety. In a situation like this it is also useful to create a pro-active plan together. Trying to find a rhythm that suits both of you can be challenging the older the child as energetically there is a push and a pull going on between you. However, your teen still looks to you the parent to help provide emotional safety as well as honor a degree of independence. The parent can acknowledge the teenagers’ choice to be alone,(before it happens) while still requesting that she stay for the dinner part of the festivities. A parent may even add ( if it is applicable) an understanding, that you know that her choice to be alone is a preferred choice to avoid talking to a lot of family members asking questions about her life! You can create a non-verbal cue together or a particular word that will indicate that “I have had enough and I am taking a break”
In these ways, you can help your child and you move through the holidays at a more harmonious, respectful, regulated pace, sometimes like a slow waltz, at other times like a polka, together; rather than as a whirling dervish, alone!