Keeping Calm on Christmas

It’s almost here – are you ready? I might be. I mean, I think I am.

Presents from Santa. Check.
Stocking Stuffers. Check.
Waffle Mix (from Williams-Sonoma, holiday tradition). Check.
Lots of Bacon (that’s not a formal tradition; it just tastes good with waffles). Check.
Kids new Christmas Jammas. Check.
Camera Battery Charged. Check.
Fresh Coffee for morning. Check.
New Kid-Photo-Clad Coffee Mugs. Check.
Diet Pepsi for morning. Check.
PLENTY of wine for *after* morning. Check.

But you know what I still need? A Plan.

Yep, A Plan.

Not just any plan, The Plan.

You know this plan, right? The part of the overall Plan that includes how to regulate your child during the UTTER chaos that will ensue the moment he wakes (assuming he sleeps) on Christmas morning.

Yeah, that Plan. The Keeping Calm on Christmas Plan.

The one that accounts for free time, and visitors, and family, and anxiety, and strange foods, and general chaos.  Do you have one?  No?

Interested in hearing my Plan?  Even if you aren't, here it is:
The Plan

Christmas Eve: Kids are put to bed as close to on time as possible after being WORN out with Proprioceptive input. Yes, if I could have them move the stove and clean behind it, I would. But, something more kid friendly, like shoveling snow, sledding, carrying groceries, shelving books (or Diet Pepsi cans…just sayin’), rearranging the furniture, moving chairs, pushups/pull ups, heavy blanket work (carrying it on their shoulders up and down the stairs), playing Santa (load a ‘sack’ with stuff to carry around and deliver to each room), animal walks, ‘wheel barrow’, crawling work, tunnels (behind the couch works wonderfully), etc. You get the idea. LOTS of proprioceptive input to help them sleep.  Then, obviously, grab a glass of wine and cross your fingers!

Christmas morning: We have boundaries for this, as we do all things. Kids wait in our room or theirs until everyone is up. Wait again until Mom and Dad are dressed, and I have gone downstairs with the camera. Then they are called to come down. Dad and I sit and watch/click photos as they see what Santa brought them, unwrapped already, and then open their stockings. That’s it. Then we PLAY with them and their new toys until Grandma and Grandpa get there for breakfast to open the rest of the gifts. Same schedule every year. Period.

Visual schedule: I am always preaching this, but people skip it because it seems unnecessary or like too much work. But I assure you THIS HELPS. Create a visual schedule.  I use Publisher, with free clipart, and make a check sheet for what to expect. I am not overly-detailed because my kiddos are black and white thinkers, and if I put it on the list, it HAS to be accomplished. But, loosely, my list would look like this (with an image next to each item, and a check box to mark it off as we go):

1. Open Santa Gifts
2. Play with our presents
3. Eat our snacks
4. Free Play
5. Grandma and Papa are here!
6. Open more presents
7. Free Play
8. Mom Cooks Breakfast
9. Eat
10. Christmas Movie or Family Game time

For us it is about recognizing there are going to be times they have to wait (like when Grandma is on her way or when I am cooking). It is also about letting them know (especially Gabe) when the meal time is – in this case, after Grandma arrives, and after we open the presents. I make three copies, each kid gets their name at the top, and I give verbal prompts to check things off ("Breakfast is over, check it off!"). Once we are through the formalities of the day (ie, presents, breakfast) we don’t need a visual schedule. If you have MORE going on later (ie: going to visit family, people visiting, formal dinner, etc) you need a schedule for those activities as well – or include it in a day-long schedule. I am not joking here friends, DO THIS.

Food: I always put food they can eat right away in their stockings. This year it is Teddy Grahams, but you can use granola bars, breakfast bars (or cookies), beefy jerky, oranges, apples, fish crackers, or just about anything that is NOT sugar and offers some protein (the Cliff Bars for kids are a big hit at our house). Remember to look for textures too – crunchy and/or chewy to keep the proprioceptive input going. Also, for us, NO crap food in their stocking (I know, I am awful, but not even candy canes). Then, they can eat it all the moment they want to, no fuss from me (no candy-increased-chaos later). And a full kiddo is a happy kiddo.

Leaving to visit others: If you leave the house with your child, bring the following: Heavy blanket (or vest/lap pad/spio suit/whatever you have), favorite toy, favorite blanket, DS/PSP/DVD player, snacks (if you have a picky kid), bribe (something new, toy, DVD, special treat, etc), and earphones/MP3 player. Those are my go-to’s.  If you aren't leaving, but people are coming over, locate all of these items before hand, and let your child know where they are should he/she feel overwhelmed.

Provide quiet time: This is important for at home, or away visting others.  Whether your kid likes it or not, he/she needs a break from the action, probably every hour. Create ways your child can take a break -- like asking them to run to the car with you for something you forgot, ask them to give you (or a guest) a tour of the house, or let them hang out in a quiet room and watch their shows (with a heavy blanket). These are all ways for them to recoup, which will be NECESSARY. Don’t look at them and say, “Hey, Tommy is totally keeping it together, I guess we’re fine!” Keeping it together is a sign of just that - they are keeping it together (not that the chaos isn't affecting them).  Take your kiddo for a break – somewhere quiet – praise him, but give him that sensory break regardless of how he is behaving.  If he is flipping out, melting down, acting crazy-anxious, then it is too late.  This is about being PROACTIVE.

Don't forget the Sensory.  I know this seems difficult to do in the middle of Christmas Chaos, but do try to keep up with your child's sensory needs.  Propriocpetion, linear movement, down time, and everything else they crave (or avoid) needs to be addressed.  Think of their sensory system as the foundaiton for their mood (and stress level). When your child is calm and organized, they can handle so much more.  And you can all focus on the day - family, fun, laughter. 

Be flexible. Why is it that when it comes to holidays we push our kiddos – and ourselves – outside of our comfort zones so far? Try and slim down your celebration. You don’t have to visit everyone. I swear, you don’t. Easy for me to say, sure. But we have made boundaries for our celebration so that our kids actually FEEL like it is a celebration: a fun, family time, that isn’t centered around stressful activities. You get to decide what traditions you want for your kiddos – and they should be ones that you all enjoy. For us, we have Christmas at home (no travel, by plane, train or automobile).  Just my parents visit Christmas Day, for breakfast (kid friendly food), and then we hang out. Watch movies, play games, check out our new stuff. There are 364 other days each year to do things we 'have to', but Christmas isn't one of them.

I know you are now thinking "Oh, I could do some of those...", but I urge you to try as many of them as you can.  And, in case you need it, I am giving you permission to tell your extended family that it isn't the best thing for your kids to visit them (or them to visit you) on Christmas and instead suggest the 26th. Or the 30th.  You have my blessing.

I hope you all have an amazing (and low-anxiety) holiday season. The good news is that January is closer than you think and then back to the glorious routine (my BFF).



Patty O. said...

Fantastic post! I love it!

I especially like the game where the kids play Santa. I am so going to try that! We'll be in Chicago and are skipping the Christmas Eve party because it is just too much--my kids cannot handle it. I have some plans and am definitely bringing our iLs equipment. I brought it for Thanksgiving and had the kids do some of the calming module before the party. I think it helped.

Roosterruler said...

AHHH! Now I get it!

Growing up, holidays were melt down days for me. Christmas. Thanksgiving. Birthdays.

They almost always guaranteed that I would flip out in some way -- even up into my teens (embarrassing but true).

Goodness, I wish I would have known. I wish my parents would have known.

We definitely then would have had more "peace on earth" and "good will towards men."

Roosterruler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lindsay & Emma Bartholomew said...

Thanks for the great ideas! The week of Christmas is INSANE for us- Emma has christmas with her dad the 23rd, our traditions for xmas eve/day and her birthday is the 26th.
These were all manageable and great ideas to keep the holiday calm!

Springingtiger said...

Personally I think the best way to go through Christmas is in bed, preferably asleep. I don't know what's worse not enjoying Christmas or being expected to by all the kind people who try to involve one in the festivities.

Hartley said...

Patty - Thanks! I will have to remember your iLS suggestion as we should have our system soon. :)

Roosterruler -- LOL You crack me up! Hard to know what is going on - even when it is happening to you - without some good information. Your all did your best with what you had. :)

Lindsay - That does sound crazy! You need a DOUBLE plan. LOL

SpringingTiger - I can totaly underestand skipping Christmas. That said, managing expecations (of you, your child, and your family) and slimming down the holiday to a more FUN (your own definition) is a great way to go.


John and Allie Fields said...

We keep stressing to everyone that it's easier to come to us than it is to take our little guy out of his comfort zone. No matter what we end up doing, I know the pressure vest will be on!

Anonymous said...

A plan is brilliant. It's so simple, but even Mamas like me forget to plan. I'm notorious for not planning for vacation and then it's chaos! Your comment on giving them a small break at least every hour is GREAT. Just because they look fine doesn't mean they ARE. :)

Jodi said...

Love to hear from someone else with Christmas morning rules. When my son was 5(almost 6, we finished opening presents and he disappeared. He had gone upstairs to quietness and an old video and was watching TV. I cried with joy! He had finally learned to just walk away from what was chaotic to him - and take some quiet time. Though other family members were upset that he wasn't enjoying the festivities I was incredibly happy and proud of my son.
Merry Christmas to y'all!

Blogger said...

Do you drink Coca-Cola or Pepsi?
ANSWER THE POLL and you could win a prepaid VISA gift card!