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“My Eight-Step Plan for a Holly Jolly Holiday”

When your child has behavior challenges, you need strategies in hand to handle the holiday break from school. I do, so why not borrow mine?

Long breaks from school can be hard on parents. As a public school teacher and a mother of two (one of whom has five behavioral/anxiety diagnoses), I feel like an expert on the topic of how breaks from school can disrupt our parenting GPS coordinates during the holidays.

This holly jolly time of year can feel more like slow suffocation for some of us. So how can we man the life rafts and survive this season without feeling like we are drowning?

Here are eight ways to ease holiday stress when you are parenting children with behavior challenges.

1. Man your battle stations.

When navigating the stormy seas of parenting a child with special needs, we are accustomed to awkward stares and unsolicited advice. To cut some of this off at the pass, it is best to not run a CIA operation. Allow your friends and family to celebrate the strengths of your super-awesome kiddo by letting them know the victories you are proud of. Pouring on praise never gets old for children who struggle behaviorally. To be acknowledged for the good is uncommon for them, so when grandma Nancy, who they haven’t seen since last year, mentions the goal they scored in soccer this season, they will glow with pride.

It is also important to be upfront with your children’s struggles. Don’t code their diagnosis. Own them. If we act afraid or embarrassed, our kids don’t feel accepted. Explain to aunt Margaret that, while ADHD wasn’t diagnosed much in the 1940s, it does exist and is a very real struggle for your daughter. Focus on the good, and remember that knowledge is power. If they don’t know, you are allowing them to assume. We both know what that does!

[Free Download: Your Holiday Survival Kit]

2. Ready your supports.

I talk often about having my “people” in order. For some that may be several family members, friends, or church members. For my husband and I, it is a few close friends who also raise children like our son. It isn’t that others are not supportive or helpful, but when my son just threw shoes at our window in an attempt to bust out the glass because I asked him to tie them, I am not looking for an answer or a pity party or a scripture verse. Those things are all lovely in their own time, but I need someone who is in the middle of picking up broken pieces of the clock their daughter just threw across the room. I need someone who won’t judge me, but who will pour a Mason jar of wine from the box they bought at Target and tell me they understand—and actually mean it.

Your people get you. They have walked in your slippers and they, too, have throw up on their four- day-old yoga pants. Sometimes that text at midnight is the thing you need to save your sanity, so you don’t lose it before grandma’s Christmas brunch tomorrow.

3. Prepare a war strategy.

This is crucial. If you have spent any time parenting children of any kind, you know going in blind is a recipe for disaster. This doesn’t mean you need “scheduled funtivities,” as my husband affectionately calls them. It does mean that you need to have a plan.

Scour Pinterest, do a Facebook poll, or pull from old workbooks from the library, but figure out a strategic approach to the days your kids will be off. Our son goes through phases where he is fixated on one interest. So, for him, it works best to plan activities or little day trips to places that relate to that subject. He was recently into airplanes, so we spent an entire week visiting the Air Force Museum, a skydiving business, and even the local airport. He watched movies about planes and helicopters, and we did crafts to teach him about carrying cargo and beginning concepts of velocity and wind variation.

It doesn’t all need to be Pinterest-perfect. I made no airplane-themed snacks. I printed off not one worksheet. But I allowed him to guide the play. It was pretty amazing!

[Minimize Holiday Havoc with These ADHD-Friendly Strategies]

4. Inflate the life rafts.

Always have an escape plan. Whether one parent needs a break from the chaos or your child needs a quiet place to take a breath, have a route planned. For us, it might be renting a new Redbox movie, taking a bike ride, or going to the skate park. Nothing fancy here.

Be sure you have a backup plan for yourself, too. I cannot speak about this enough. Parents need to take care of themselves if we are meant to have anything left to give to our kiddos. If your children are home for two weeks from school, be sure at least, once a week, each parent (or caregiver) has a scheduled “time-off.” Go shopping, run at the park, get your nails done, take a nap, go have a beer or a coffee. Whatever your poison, pick it and take time to breathe. Your entire family will thank you for it!

A mom who goes to the grocery with a cart full of children will leave with a migraine. Don’t do this to yourself. Have snacks and juice boxes stocked. If you couldn’t get to the store, Click List that mess! It is worth paying the $5 service fee to your favorite local grocery store to have a teenager do the shopping for you so all you have to do is open the back of the van. Whatever you do, feed the hungry bears. No child is a happy child on an empty stomach (and neither am I).

When I say I am always prepared, Boy Scouts can back it up! I have a mini-bar of granola bars, cheddar bunnies, fruit snacks, and juice boxes at the ready in the van, in the diaper bag, and sometimes in my purse. When all else fails, throw some chocolate at them. Don’t be ashamed, honey. We’ve all been there.

6. Dress for the part.

One of my favorite memories as a child was playing dress up, even if that meant forcing my little brother to wear my mom’s dresses and makeup against his will. Our kids thrive on this kind of free play, and they get a little something extra when we are willing to be silly with them.

We are a big dance party household, so crank up the tunes, wear funny hats, and get down together! The kids will get out some energy, you can log steps for cardio, and they will be ready for naps by lunchtime. You can thank me later.

7. Stay the course.

Discouragement is the number one killer of all best-laid parenting plans. No one smart said that, but I fully believe it. When I feel like I have something really great in store (whether for my own kids or in my classroom) and it falls flat or it finishes quicker than I had prepared, I cannot let that stop me. Stay the course.

It is best to be flexible and to have a backup plan. Don’t rely on good weather or good attitudes because neither is predictable. Have plenty of options and be ready to change plans if necessary. This is coming from a complete Type A control freak, but I have had to learn to loosen up. Everyone has more fun this way.

8. Don’t always play captain.

I do love to be in charge. However, it is incredible what can come out of a situation when I allow others to take the reins, even my kids! Let your kiddos plan your meal, make dinner, or choose the movie. Allow them to pick the game you play or decide when you leave for the store. Trust me, everything will still be there when you are done.

I have had to learn from that snow witch, Elsa, that letting things go has been freeing. This is how I discovered that my husband was physically capable of preparing a meal. It wasn’t that he wasn’t willing. I had never let him try!

Ladies, you are killing it. Our kids are hard. Behavior concerns muddy the waters, but we are strong and capable. And when we aren’t, we have our tribe. If you don’t have one, email me. I am always looking to expand my teepee!

[House Rules for the Holidays]

5. Stock the ship.

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