by Taylor Levesque, M.A.
Associate Program Manager, Child Services
In the crazy, semi-controlled chaos of the holidays, consider giving yourself and your family the gift of preview.
Preview for Your Child or Teen
- Provide the Holiday ‘Big Picture:’ Give your child the big picture, or gestalt, of the holiday season. What holiday is it and what traditions is it characterized by? Are there specific routines affiliated with this holiday? Will this holiday bring your child the sometimes-uncomfortable scents of many “interesting” foods or the need to use the awkward “social fake” when Grandpa gives you the same pair of socks from last year? You can do this by reading a story book about the holiday, researching the holiday dinner menu online with your child, or having a family discussion about the “big picture.”
- Dive Into What Can Be Expected: After giving your child the holiday gestalt, preview some details about what can be expected. Who will be at the gathering and what will be on the menu? What might people talk about there and what can your teen add to the conversation? Can your child play a special role in holiday traditions or activities? Something as simple as watching a YouTube video of holiday celebrations, creating a mock-up lunch menu on construction paper, or looking through pictures of a holiday gathering should do the trick.
- Plan for the Unexpected: What if your child or teen is struggling this holiday season? When the unexpected hits, call upon proactively placed tools and techniques. Work together with your children/teens and any hosting relative to carve out safe spaces that are sensory-friendly and can provide respite. Find her a quiet space at Auntie Ginny’s house to read her favorite comic book, bring his headphones and weighted blanket for the before-dinner mingling, and provide them a script to tell others they need a break from the holiday stimulation.
Preview for A Family Member
- “Here is What You Can Expect:” Although friends and relatives may be curious, interested and eager to be helpful, many people still don’t know exactly how to best host your child at holiday gatherings. Communicate with friends and family ahead of time to share more about your child’s strengths, challenges, quirks, and beneficial strategies. Open up and normalize this same dialogue with your child or teen as well.
- “Here is How You Can Support My Family:” As you preview your child or teen’s needs with others, give outsiders a “to-do” action item to support your family this holiday season. By giving relatives a specific task or project, you will empower them to feel confident and capable in hosting your family. For example, provide a social story for all family members to read before exchanging gifts or post a visual schedule of activities on your door.
- “Are You Interested in Learning More?” If you feel so inclined to continue the conversation with curious outsiders, provide them with take-home resources to grow their neurodiversity vocabulary. Create a one-page document about Sensory Processing Disorder or pass along a copy of one of Temple Grandin’s many masterpieces.
Now that you’ve previewed the holiday season for your children, teens, and family, make sure to give yourself that same gift of preview. Holidays happen. Plans may go awry, but Plan Z is still a plan even if it’s not the plan you had previewed.