De-Stressing from Holiday Distress by Drs. Cindy Ariel and Robert Naseef

Diversity-interfaithlogo2No matter what tradition you celebrate, holidays are often filled with stress.  There is a lot of pressure to make the holidays perfect and fun while enjoying yourself.  When you add to that the stresses around having a child with special needs it can become even more overwhelming.

Everything needs readjusting in your family life and you are left with many strong emotions. It is on you to make warm experiences and wonderful traditions.   It’s important to sit back for a few minutes and reflect. What is it about the holidays that you’ve always enjoyed?  Special foods?  Pretty decorations?  Certain activities?   The gifts?  All of it?  Whatever it is start there.

Some things may need modification in order to enjoy the holidays with your child.  For example, if there is a danger of injury on fragile decorations, you may have to put them higher out of reach or get new ones that are less fragile.  Some special foods may not be able to be served.  These modifications can be disappointing, but if the goal is a nice family holiday, we can adjust.

Make the demands on yourself realistic. Try to put some limits on how much you do so that you can feel some of the joy, not only the frustration.  Make sensible lists and work on things one at a time.  Looking at the whole holiday season is less overwhelming if you take it in small pieces.  You may have to manage your expectations to lower your stress level and make the holidays special.

For gifts, think about what will put a smile on your child’s face.  Maybe she can’t handle the new games that every other kid is playing, or the current popular book series, or new sports equipment.  But she may be thrilled with a cushy new ball, a big soft bean bag chair to flop on, a favorite food (within dietary constraints), or even an hour away from the noise and confusion to walk outside or go to the playground.  The National Lekotek Center has recommendations on the “Top Ten Things to Consider When Buying Toys for Children with Disabilities” 

These may not be the holidays you dreamed of, but you can still offer your family the love and warmth that really matters.  More than new toys, it is parents’ time and attention that is so exciting and wonderful for children.  In the consumer-driven rush this holiday season, let’s not forget what’s really important.  Let’s try to connect with our families and friends and all whose lives we touch.  Let’s enjoy quality time together.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote many years ago, “The only true gift is a portion of thyself.”


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