School Breaks, Travel, & Family, Oh My!
Coping with the challenges of breaks from school, travel, and family gatherings
Getting out of the usual routine - whether it’s spring break, a family reunion, the holidays, or a family vacation - is nothing but joy, fun, and relaxation, right?
If you answered yes, then you can stop reading now - and please share your secrets!
Otherwise, you are one of the millions of people, especially parents, who look forward to days off work and school and the chance to spend time with the family, but also know that broken routines come with a lot of stress!
This is true most of all for families with children with special needs.
Food that the kids are not used to or, worse, that the kids love but are not allowed to have!
Flights or long drives!
Well-meaning relatives who want to hug and pinch and tickle!
Visiting homes or hotels that don’t have crash pads and swings and safety gates!
If this list of stressors sounds familiar, keep reading. Following are some tools that will help make those school breaks, trips, and get-togethers a little easier to get through.
Storyboards: A storyboard can be an extremely powerful tool to help prepare kids for what’s to come. A storyboard is simply a visual representation of a timeline of what is going to happen. It might include drawings (stick figures are allowed) or magazine clippings or any way to show of some of the following components: Packing a suitcase, loading up the car, driving down the highway, going into Grandma’s house, greeting family members, sitting down to eat a meal, playtime with cousins, saying goodbye, going home. If you can start talking about it several days or even weeks ahead of time, it will allow time for concerns to be expressed and for potential problems to show themselves early enough to plan for. Bring it with you and talk throughout the experience about where you are now and what’s next.
Toys and Games: We all know that having plenty of toys and games can accomplish the most important component of travel or visits with kids: distraction! But with some thought and planning, the toys and games you choose can each have their own important impacts on your child’s comfort level. Play-doh, for example, can provide a calming type of sensory input to help keep anxieties under control. Here’s a great resource for homemade play-doh if you wish to steer clear of the dyes and other stuff in the store-bought varieties: http://www.naturemoms.com/play-dough-recipes.html. If you’re not flying to your destination (luggage fees, yikes!), try bringing along a weighted medicine ball. The cumbersome weight of it provides an organizing sensory experience, and makes it harder to throw at Grandma’s cat. They’re great at rest stops along a road trip or for kicking or rolling across a carpeted room.
Don’t rely on distraction 100% - Get the kids involved as much as possible: Whether you’re hosting a gathering at your house or going to a family member’s home, resist the urge to make all the preparations while the kids are napping or with a sitter. Whether on the day of the gathering or in the days ahead, getting them involved in planning a menu, packing, cooking, shopping, cleaning (every child’s fave) or setting the table naturally leads to conversations about what is to come. Its also a good way to get them invested in the success of the day: “Look Grandpa, I helped mash the potatoes!”
When it’s all said and done, you may still find yourself thinking, “I’m glad that’s over!” It is my hope that with these strategies and more to come (stay tuned!), you’ll also be able to add, “But it went better than I thought it would!”
Comment below with any questions or ideas that have worked well for you and your family!