Written by Colleen Kessler of Raising Lifelong Learners
I’ll never forget the first few holiday seasons after we had our oldest. Planning whom to see and when was something like triangulating the troops to hone in on exactly when and where each needed to be in order to win a war.
We were on high alert, and the holidays were anything but restful.
A few years into this crazy-making, we were beginning to realize that there was something a little different about our guy.
He was into everything.
He couldn’t NOT tell anyone who would (or wouldn’t) listen all about everything he knew about whatever topic he was currently obsessed with.
He was incredibly…intense.
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There isn’t really a clinical definition of “intense kid” that your pediatrician or child psychologist will hand you down with a list of dos and don’ts. You just kind of know.
And with that knowing comes time to change things up a bit, let go of some previously-held expecatations, and do what’s best for your family — even if it’s not a popular choice.
It’s been about ten years since we chose the unpopular and decided to stop going to family gatherings on Thanksgiving and Christmas Days.
This was an incredibly difficult choice for me, especially. I’m a person who has always dreamed of Sunday dinners with grandparents, friends, and other family. Of holidays filled with people so that the house is bursting at the seams.
But ten years ago I realized that my holidays were spent trying to keep an anxious, energetic, and overstimulated preschooler under control while toting a nursing baby in a wrap, around the houses of aunts and uncles, cousins and acquaintances.
People whom I was only seeing a few overstimulated times a year, and the impression they had of my children (and my parenting) wasn’t favorable.
I left each time feeling exhausted, alone, and defeated.
These weren’t the happy family memories I wanted for my kids.
So we stopped going.
We declared that Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day would both be spent at home. I decided that I’d cook traditional meals (I love a good turkey with plenty of stuffing and mashed potatoes, after all), and we’d be slow and enjoy games, movies, and conversation.
If anyone wanted to join us, they were welcome, whether for the meal or dessert, but it was rare for anyone to take us up on that — we HAD shunned the family tradition of loading up the van just after dawn, piling into one kitchen across town to help finish up a meal our kids were too overwhelmed to eat by the time it was finished, and then loading them up again to head somewhere else for dessert.
A decade later, I wouldn’t trade it. I love our slow holidays, cozy game days, and movie marathons.
Is quitting the holidays the right choice for everyone?
No. Absolutely not.
I’m not here to advocate that you call up every family member and tell them that you won’t be celebrating with them.
I AM here to tell you that it is incredibly important to know your kiddos and your own limits. If you need to step back, do it. It may be uncomfortable to make a decision like that when it goes against all tradition, however.
If you can’t, (or don’t want to) step back, then make a plan for things that may go wrong. You have an intense kiddo that may need to blow off steam when things feel overwhelming. Is there a place near where you’re going that you can sneak away for a walk or some fresh air?
If not, maybe tuck a resistance band or theraputty in your bag so you have something you can use in a bathroom or spare bedroom to help your kiddo get away and re-regulate for a bit.
I bring a diaper bag sized “purse” with me everywhere we go. I stock it with healthy snacks, bottles of water or juice boxes, card games, logic puzzles, and yep, even screens…
When we get to where we’re going, I make sure that I know a place where my two that often need to get away can go with me if they need a break.
And I communicate with my husband.
It’s important to be on the same team so that neither of you resents the other. Our agreement goes something like this — when we’re at my friends’ or family’s homes, he is the one that knows where our intense kiddos are.
When we’re at his friends’ or family’s I take the reins. There are definite sacrifices that go with raising intense kids — especially during the holidays — but they’re all worth it for your kids to know that you’re looking out for them.
The bottom line is that holidays are hard for everyone. There’s the running around, the crowds, the sweets, the noise, the lights, etc. But, for an intense kiddo who may be anxious and struggle with sensory challenges as well, the holidays can be brutal.
Have a plan in place that works for your family, and take a few years off if you need to. Your kiddos need you. And that is the most important thing.
Tell me, have you made any holiday parenting decisions that have saved your family’s sanity, but has been unpopular?
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