Structure during the down times

Matt Briere-Saltis, BCaBA, Behavior Therapist

With the holidays approaching, temptation to modify your child’s schedule is going to be there. Little Johnny is supposed to be taken to the bathroom every 60 minutes but you’ve got to leave soon to get to Aunt Martha’s dinner party. You could take him now, even though it’s only been 45 minutes. Not a big deal right? Well 10 minutes into the trip Johnny has an accident. Instead of praising him for going to the bathroom on schedule and building important habits and learning history, we’re rushing into a Hungry Howies to get as many napkins as it takes to dry the back seat of the Yukon. (Don’t forget to grab a few extra to dry off the now saturated pea coat you had sitting next to Johnny).

9 times out of 10 it is not worth it to make modifications or forgo aspects of your child’s treatment for the sake of convenience. Ironically, trying to make things “easier” can actually cause more problems, just as in Johnny’s example above. There are ways to make your holiday season go relatively smooth without having to sacrifice tradition, or your child’s treatment.

Plan ahead. Make a plan in advance for everything that is likely to be a stressful decision. Then have a plan B in case things go awry. Make sure everyone in the family is aware of what their role is going to be, whether it’s diaper changer extraordinaire, or just a moral support who will praise Johnny for staying dry and Mom and Dad for staying sane.

  • Expect the unexpected. Holidays mean a change in schedule and a change in scenery for most of our families. A lot of you have children that do not react particularly well to sudden changes. While it can be impossible to predict exactly how your child is going to react, you can expect him/her to have some difficulties. Plan some extra time so that you can respond appropriately to whatever behavior you’re seeing.
  • Set aside break time. Another common ingredient thrown in the mix is added sensory stimuli in the environment. Whether it’s Christmas lights, delicious turkey smells, colder temperatures outside, more cars on the road and more cars honking at the guy from Colorado in the wrong turning lane, tis the season of more sensory input in the air. Give your children opportunities away from all this input to engage in their preferred sensory integration activities. Compression, deep pressure, headphones, counting, etc. Chances are it will help the child avoid problem behaviors by successfully processing more of that added sensory input.
  • Be realistic. Something that kills me every year is the expectation that parents put on their children to have the “ideal” holiday experience. Many families try faking it – forcing smiles,  engaging in witty banter, and sipping eggnog in ugly sweaters by a fire. I much prefer the scenario where everyone gets a piece of their respective holiday pie and then supports their family. This can be dad wearing his favorite ugly sweater, mom getting the eggnog, little Suzie going to a friend’s house for the day, and infamous Johnny may simply be content watching a 30 second clip of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation several times as a reward for staying dry the whole way to Grandma’s house.

Make a concerted effort to maintain structure and treatment schedules while you also take the time to enjoy the holiday times with loved ones. Fill your stockings with patience, open a big box of consistency, and by all means, enjoy some eggnog.

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