How to Ease Transitions During the Holidays
photo: erin walker –

Holidays are hectic, and having to make transitions from one activity to another can be difficult. There is always a mad dash to get things done, new routines and foods to eat, objects to “not touch” placed about the house, and not to mention well-intentioned relatives invading personal space. This time of year is a great opportunity to provide plenty of practice in dealing with transitions. Here are some strategies for keeping things running smooth and where everyone can enjoy the time spent with each other.

  • Decorate early and have your child help decide where decorations may be placed. This not only habituates children to the changes in décor but empowers them to be mindful when interacting with family traditions. Be sure to set aside your breakables in a safe “just to look at” table or in a cabinet. When setting up a “just to look-at table” allow your child to handle and feel those objects before going on the table or in the cabinet. By having the child sitting on a sofa or carpet, discuss how the object became a piece of family history. Let your child know its importance and how it represents the love everyone in the family has for each other.
  • Practice social greetings and manners before the big day. You can even have a pretend tea party – using such apps as Toca Tea Party or use any of practical life playsets available.
  • If you need your child to wear something special – try it on and wear it before the big day to get the “scratchiness out”. Also letting the child know that the outfit is for wearing short-term. Practice having it on for an hour, then taking it off. Visual Timers are perfect tools to let a child know that there is a definite beginning and END to an unpleasant expectation. Search for one that pleases your child.
  • Try to make time for your child to adjust and try new foods before the big day. There is nothing like pulling out Aunt Birdie’s gelatin mold for the first time and expecting your child to be thrilled to eat it. If you do know of traditional holiday foods – try to incorporate a taste of them in the weeks ahead of the holiday, so the sight, sound, and taste of something new doesn’t send your little one over the edge. Also respect a child when he says, “No thank you.” Holiday meals are not worth a power play, but a time for families to enjoy each other. In other words – Don’t make demands you have no intention, time, or energy to follow through on – choose your battles.
  • Use a beloved stuffed animal or doll to help role-play new routines. By addressing the toy, it gives a familiarity and space where anything can be shared. Practice talking and sharing your worries, and have the toy whisper to you a response. You can encourage your child to do the same. Many times, children know what they need, but are unable to verbalize it. I am biased towards Bluebee Pals as there are so many ways these huggable friends can be used as an educational tool.
  • Provide a safe space such as a pop-up tent or a kid-only and kid-friendly cozy corner to give your child a safe space in which to go, if things get too much. Have pillows, blankets, and familiar and comforting toys and books. By squeezing a stuffie or pillow tight, kids receive the body input needed to stay calm.
  • Headphones with favorite or soothing music can provide your child with a much needed sensory break they may need before continuing to celebrate. Earth sounds such as waves, rain, or birds chirping can provide a sense of space when the world crashes in. Adults do things too to stay calm and focused – leaning against a wall, playing with the change in their pockets, or eating crunchy, chewy or creamy foods. We all look and need support when overwhelmed.
  • Read stories about Holiday Routines and what is expected. You can also make a storybook using apps such as Book Creator or Kid in Story to help prepare your child.
  • Using an app such as Choiceworks by BeeVisual LLC, begin the day with what the events and expectations are going to be throughout the day. This app has many applications, from using it at a grocery store for a “Food Hunt or Check-off List” or simply keeping kids in the cart by giving them a job to designing schedules or “If/Then contingencies. Choiceworks is one of the most versatile apps that I have used in helping to keep kids regulated. One of the nicest features is the ability to take pictures of real objects and input the names of the pictures. Many times, we think children know or can go with the flow of things when really their systems are way beyond overload already. Giving little one’s choices also helps them feel in control.

What are your strategies for success? We’d love to hear them!


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