So ready or not, here come the holidays. People have started putting out their Christmas lights and decorations. Conversations have changed to include everyone’s plans for the holidays or what gifts to give. Christmas advertising has reached its peak and the malls seem to be busier even on weekdays during the day.
I don’t know about you but I have mixed feelings about this time of year. Yes, I enjoy the food and connecting with friends or family I don’t regularly see, but I don’t like the busyness or the crowds and neither do our folks living with FASD. How well we know that change of routine, crowds and hectic schedules are a recipe for disaster for these individuals.
One year, I attempted to take my two kids (both with FASD) to buy a gift for Daddy. Talk about bad idea. The excitement of the errand and the crowded, busy store made them both a bit more hyper. They instantly started fighting over who could drive the cart then the actions of one would annoy the other and it just ended in meltdowns all around (including me)!! Even decorating our Christmas Tree felt like a circus at times with two highly impulsive, competitive kids eager to help.
So to decrease the stress of the holidays here are some strategies that I use:
ESTABLISH HOLIDAY VALUES
This is an important one to me because it’s easy to get caught up in a flurry of activities and commitments that I don’t really enjoy or I spend the holidays caught up in preventing or dealing with meltdowns. I try to take a step back and look at what’s important to me. Is it having a more peaceful, relaxing holiday? Do I want to spend more quality time with family or friends?I tend to like a more laid-back holiday so I try not to schedule too many commitments especially since it wears out my kids resulting in more meltdowns. I also like to enjoy quality time with friends and family members so I try to get together with them on my own so we can catch up without interruptions.
This is a hard one for me but if I don’t get things started early then I just get overwhelmed and stressed and the holidays are not as enjoyable for me or they’re over before I could really take the time to savour them. Early means different things to different people, some start on Boxing Day of the previous year to take advantage of sales, others start in July, still others may think the end of November is early enough. I usually try to get things started in November and if I can get the decorations up and most of the shopping done by the beginning of December then I don’t feel so stressed.
MINIMIZE SHOPPING STRESS
If I have to take my kids with me shopping I try to choose the least busy time (starting the Christmas shopping early means fewer crowds) after they both have had a snack and I lay down the rules for shopping ahead of time such as only I drive the cart and they have to walk behind me side-by-side at all times. To keep busy hands from grabbing things on the shelves I give them both either a fidget toy or chew necklace they hold onto or they have to keep their hands in their pockets. I do constant reminders to combat the lack of impulse control by calling out, “hands” or reminding them of the rules when needed. Even with a strategy I still try to keep these trips very short and my shopping list to a minimum. If I have a lot of items to get or need to look around then I’ll go out on my own.
BE PREPARED BUT BE FLEXIBLE
I want to do my best to prevent triggering meltdowns for my kids but sometimes things happen outside of my control so I try to have a ‘plan B’ in case of meltdowns. This is helpful especially when attending a celebration or family gathering. I try to find out if there is a quiet, safe place I can take them to, where they can get through their moment if they have one. I also bring along fidget toys and a chew necklace to deal with sensory issues as well as their iPads in case they get bored or need some quiet time alone. Even after all of that, sometimes my kids just have bad days and the best course of action is to leave early. So I have to remember to be flexible and just do what’s best in the situation.
So what about you? How do you try to decrease the stress of the holidays on yourself and family? If you have some successful holiday strategies you would like to share, feel free to include them in the comments below.
If you’re looking for more strategies to survive the holidays this year then come out to hear Jeff Noble at our FASD Caregiver support meeting on Tuesday, December 13, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Room of Real Canadian Superstore at Mavis and Dundas in Mississauga, Ontario.
Jeff Noble is the Founder and CEO of, an organization that provides hope and education to people caring for someone living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) through online applications and in-person training sessions, demonstrations and consultations. For more information about Jeff check out his website: fasdforever.com.