Family holiday planning with special needs


I saw something on one of the morning TV shows a while back and thought I’d share. The parenting expert who was talking about this was actually using it in reference to sibling rivalry, which I didn’t really get. I did however, find it very applicable to many situations I encounter, especially around the holidays. Probably most of us do these things regularly, but it’s always nice to have a reminder to bring it up off the back burner.

SWEEPS is an acronym you can put in place with your family to make your holidays run smoother.

S: Sleep. I am militant about my kids’ bed times — to the point of being annoying at times, but I don’t care. I know what is best for them. Lack of sleep in kids and adults has been linked to everything from obesity and diabetes to stress, depression and heart problems. Sleep is not valued enough — well, it is in our house. But during this busy time, we have to make extra efforts to stay on our sleep schedules. And this is for kids and parents! When we go to a family outing, I almost always bring my kids’ PJs with us and change them into them right before we leave. Then all I have to do is carry them to their beds, for minimal chance of interrupting.

W: Work. If you have work pending, don’t ignore it. Get tasks done so you can enjoy your holiday season or it will be weighing on you. And for your kids, keep their minds busy. Most of them are going to be off from school anywhere from a few days to a week or more; that’s a really long time with no academic stimulation. Talk to teachers and therapists now, about what are some small, simple things you can do at home and exercise their minds, while reinforcing what they are doing at school.

E: Eat. Eat, and eat healthy. Sure, indulge on the treats as appropriate. But when a machine doesn’t have good fuel, it doesn’t run well. Moderation is key. And some people, both kids and adults, have some food triggers that can either bring on headaches, intestinal discomfort or behavior problems. Make sure you know what everyone is eating. I bring a lunch box with food for my kids just about every place we go, just in case. (My son has feeding issues.) I don’t care who is insulted — if my son has to eat a PB&J at Thanksgiving dinner, so be it. It’s better than him going hungry because he can’t/won’t eat what is being served and then fills up on cookies.

E: Emotions. Let’s face it, around the holidays there are times when *I* am on sensory overload. Let them have plenty of down time to deal with emotions. This goes for your typical kids too. If you have a rigid-thinker, black & white “there is no Santa” child in your house, acknowledge that with your other kids. Let them be angry about it or experience whatever emotions they have. Let yourself mourn over the losses and frustrations you’re feeling. Hopefully if we’re all sleeping enough, eating healthy and getting some exercise, there will be fewer emotional triggers or meltdowns. But you know they can and do happen. “Predict & Prevent” right? Arrive at gatherings early (when fewer people are there) and leave early (before volume skyrockets).

P: Play. Have fun. Exercise. Get moving. Walk the dog around the block. Do a few laps on a walking path at a local park. Find an area that is enjoyable to your child and get some outdoors activity and/or exercise. In addition to the "W: Work" item above, it will not only work their brains, but overall everyone will feel better. If your child has played video games for 10 hours every day for 10 days….how well is he going to readjust to school?

S: Say No. Don’t overextend yourself or your family. Learn to say no without guilt. A friend of mine once said to me: When you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. You don’t have to do it all. We can’t do it all, and retain our sanity.

And most of all, this is a great time of year, enjoy it!

Lisa Lightner is a Chester County, PA mom of two. This post is adapted from the blog  A Day in Our Shoes, a blog of support, resources and advocacy services for parents of children with special needs that she co-authors. Also see her bog Smart Spending Spot.


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