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Holiday Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Children

holiday graphicSometimes the holidays don’t feel like ‘holidays’ at all. For gifted kids they can be tougher than normal days. Gifted children can have a hard time with everything from clothes to noise to lights to crowds to foods to expectations and just being ridiculously excited. When holiday time happens it usually means spending a lot more time with other people, whether they are coming to your house or you are going to theirs…whether they are coming for dinner or staying for a week. It can also mean parties and crowds and loud music, which for a gifted child can sound like no fun at all. And if your gifted child is an introvert or is anywhere on the sensory processing spectrum it can be downright nightmarish.

We’ve been through it a total of nine times and counting, and every year we get better at it. So here are a few of my best tips and tricks for surviving this holiday season.

Sleep

Surprising right? Of course not. We all know how important it is, so I won’t waste time on it. This is your reminder.

Nutrition

See sleep above. You know it and I know it so just make it a priority.

Keep them in mind

Don’t forget about your gifted child when making crazy plans. If you promised you would read four chapters of Harry Potter but you know that after nine hours of shopping you will be too tired to read four chapters of Harry Potter then don’t shop for nine hours. Keep the promises you make and be aware of how your schedule affects them. You don’t have to accept every invitation that comes your way. I have heard from many other parents that other family members can make them feel the most pressured and other family members are who they are most afraid of offending. Talk it out with them. If your family is anything like mine they’ll probably tell you its fine (then they’ll wait until they are all together and you’re not there and talk about how crazy you are). But at least you’ll get what you need. And if that doesn’t work, think in terms of compromise. If being over at your parents’ house from 8am until 8pm causes meltdowns and winds up being no fun for anyone, then skip one end of the deal; tell them you’d love to come for dinner OR come over in the morning but you just can’t do both. Or go for breakfast and presents and then go home for a few hours (if that’s feasible) or go for a long walk in the snow or drive around to look at Christmas decorations pop over to a friend’s house. Then come back later in the day refreshed and ready to handle the second leg of the journey. Whatever gets you through.

Set them up for success

This time of year we are all busier than usual and this is one thing that almost every year I let slip by me at least once. Tell them where you are a going, what’s going to happen (I mean no need to spoil the Santa surprise here or anything, just a general idea), and what is expected of them. If you know there are going to be things that bother them, talk about it beforehand and come up with a plan. If too many people upsets them, find a way to give them some space. Take a walk or bring a book with you and ask Grandma if they can have a little spot to be alone and read for a while. If your child likes using code words those have worked well for us in the past. For example, my son is a ‘texture’ fusspot when it comes to food. So he’ll eat some people’s mashed potatoes but I’ve seriously seen him gag trying to eat others – its all in the minute differences in texture. So when we are eating a Christmas dinner somewhere else he can use the ‘code’ word to tell me discretely that he’d like me to take his potatoes off his plate. (He gets that grossed out if they are “wrong”). I think the code word thing works so well because they feel like they are in on some fantastic secret with just you. Or you can plan ahead and just not put potatoes on his plate. Whatever gets you through.

Being alert to changes and heading disaster off at the pass

When things move or change in a different direction, keep an eye on your kiddos and watch for subtle changes that may mean you are on the road to meltdownville. When you see that coming it might be time to make an exit, or if that’s not appropriate, sneak out for a ten minute walk and give your child some one on one time and a little quiet time without the noise and people so he can calm himself down. It’ll also help because if it starts to happen again he’ll know he can come to you and you can problem solve together.

Perspective

Try to zoom out of December, look at the big picture. This is only a few weeks of the year, remember to look outside of all the craziness hopefully you can make decisions with a calmer head and not get caught up in “perfection” or trying to do it all. Sometimes I can find myself feeling pressure because its a ‘special’ time of year. Remember that everyday is special, and whatever greeting card memory you don’t get to recreate, you will have 335 other days of the year to make amazing. Don’t burn yourself and your kids out with expectations – you don’t actually live in a snow globe, so you won’t actually look like that family on the Hallmark commercial.

Reciprocate

If friends and family aren’t supportive of the little extra accommodations you need for your child, then you are not obligated to be supportive of the little ‘extras’ that they expect for the holidays. For example, above I mentioned bringing a book and asking Grandma if there is a quiet place to sit and read for a bit. If having that conversation with Grandma is going to result in her giving you the gears and if it ultimately is too much for you to ask, then don’t go. Or go, but leave early. My point is simply that making yourself and your child miserable isn’t doing anyone any good. Try your best to just do what works for you and let go of the guilt. This is your time to make memories with your child, prioritize the people who make you and your child a priority and ditch the rest. I know, I know, there are just some situations where this doesn’t work. In that case, have an extra eggnog and keep smiling – January is right around the corner. Whatever gets you through.

What about you? What do you do to survive the holiday season? We could all use some fresh ideas, so please share!

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