Recommendations for Taking the Stress Out of the Holidays


Smiling Cute African girl giving Christmas present

Holidays are an exciting time to spend quality time with family and friends, enjoy great food, and embrace the season of giving. Holidays can also be extremely stressful, from the never-ending to-do list, the decorations, preparations, gift shopping, and endless social gatherings that disrupt routines and alter schedules. These are just a few of the things that can cause parents to spin their wheels.

As fun as the holidays are, the disruption to routines and extra social demands can make a fun time feel daunting for families whose children already struggle in day-to-day social situations. I’m here to tell you that it does not have to feel this way.

Here are five steps you can take to change how you approach and navigate the holidays in a way that works for your family without sacrificing tradition or memories!

1. Ask yourself what would make your holidays peaceful, memorable, and meaningful.

Sit down and make a list of things that would work for your family and make this time special all around. Don’t worry about how everyone else celebrates the holidays or expects you to do so. Instead, think of the things that are, have been, and will be meaningful and memorable for your family, and forget the rest. There is no one way to celebrate!

2. Create or Adapt New Traditions

Societal or familial traditions don’t align with your family’s needs? Create new ones, or adapt traditions passed down to better fit your family. For example, if setting the table to look a certain way for a family dinner is important, modify that to make it fun for your kids, keep them busy, and let them shine. If your kids like art, use a paper tablecloth and allow your kids to decorate it. It will not only keep them busy for hours, but it will uphold your tradition of setting the table and be a great conversation starter at dinner that incorporates your kids socially and lets them shine!Kids drawing on a Christmas decoration

3. Prepare guests for what to expect and share your child’s needs, if different from other kids.

This will help friends and family understand how to best support your child and create a judgment-free and stress-free atmosphere. For example, if your child does not like physical touch, let friends and family know how to greet them. If they easily get overwhelmed is social situations, let friends and family know what it looks like when they are taking a break, so they can recognize it and respect it.

4. Create a plan with your child and identify an exit strategy/signal.

Let them know what to expect, how much social interaction they may need to have, and how, when, and where they can take a break. Practice this ahead of the party or gathering so that everyone feels successful.

5. Learn to politely say no.

You don’t have to accept every invitation or host every party. Give yourself room to put your family, peace of mind, and needs first. For example, if someone invites you to a gathering that you know will be too much for your child to navigate, politely thank them for the invitation and let them know that you’d love to take them up on it another time.Happy kids with their gingerbread houses

Remember, there is no one way to celebrate the holidays and no single set of traditions that is “right.” Joyous and socially successful holidays are about give and take, kindness, and togetherness. What this looks like to or for each person and family can differ. Embrace what makes your holidays special!

Justyna Balzar has over 15 years of experience with learners of varying profiles between the ages of 3 to 18 across multiple settings. She received her Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) certification in 2014 from the Florida Institute of Technology, her Master’s in Curriculum and Education in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University, and her BCBA certification in 2016. She co-founded The Hangout Spot, located in Norwalk, CT.


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