While the holidays are a wonderful time to visit family, celebrate, and enjoy time together, they can also present a challenge when you have a child who is dependent on routine and predictability.
Do you have a child who relies on routines and completely loses it when things change or become unpredictable? Unfortunately holiday travel, delays, visiting family and sleeping in a different place can all become extreme challenges for these children. Here are a few ways to help ease their anxiety and make the holidays a more enjoyable experience for them and you:
Prepare them for the fact that things might not go as planned. Talk ahead of time about how sometimes planes get delayed, cars have to sit in traffic, or other issues may come up outside of your control. Make a plan for how to be flexible, what to do if a change of plans happens, or talk about making a “Plan A” and “Plan B”. Express your own frustration about delays and model how to handle it appropriately.
Bring comfort items or items that remind them of home. If your child usually sleeps with a certain blanket or stuffed animal, be sure to bring it. If you use visuals or schedules, bring them too, even if you have to modify them.
Keep at least some routines the same. If your child has a bedtime routine, you can likely keep it mostly the same even at someone else’s house. Point out the ways that your routine won’t change, and try to keep the things that can be predictable the same.
Be aware of your child’s environmental triggers. There are likely to be other things throwing your child out of whack besides just a lack of routine. Triggers can “stack” and add up over time to cause a total meltdown. If you know your child doesn’t like large crowds or noise, an airport might present a huge challenge because in addition to an unpredictable delay, there is likely to be a lot of noise. Bring headphones or an activity for your child to focus on. You won’t be able to eliminate everything, but doing what you can to be aware and minimize your child’s triggers will help.
Practice coping skills. Even very young children can learn coping skills, though they will likely need to be facilitated by you until they get older. Practice things like taking deep breaths, making backup plans, or asking for help. Do them with your child (it might even help you keep your cool too!)
With a plan in place and some preparation, your child can do well with holiday travel and changes in routines. This will allow the whole family to feel more relaxed and able to enjoy the season.