First and foremost, be mindful that your RADish will probably not emerge from the other side of the holidays in good condition. Work from the position that expects problems and makes the effort to contain them before they blow. Anticipate. Think to previous years and plan.
RADishes do not like change!
My RADish (affectionate term for a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder) does not like change. She thinks there should be a law against all change and the rest of us should have to comply. So you might think that a holiday like Thanksgiving where my little food hoarder/sneaker can eat all she wants would be a positive. It is. However, the overriding feeling will be anxiety due to change in schedules, locations, people and rules.
Anxiety always comes out.
When your child starts up with provoking behavior, constant demands and does bizarre things it may mean she is feeling unsure and unsafe.
So what do you do? You talk it through at every opportunity. I would describe every single thing I could think of to Genea ahead of time. We are going to Grandma's house.We are taking my car. It will be a long car ride and I want you to bring a few books. We will try to drive straight there without stopping. When we get to Grandma's, remember her 2 dogs will bark at you at first. We will not eat right away, it will be about 2 hours after we get there. These are the foods she will have. These are the people who will be there.
But wait! Do Not tell her too far ahead of time because then she will freak out anticipating the day. For Genea, usually the night before a big event is good. Sometimes, the day of. Seriously, rarely more notice than that. Where you have anticipatory anxiety you have your Wango Tango. Simple.
Do what you have to do to keep the chances for failure at a minimum.
My child cannot control her urine when she is stressed. Even though she is 7 and fully capable, unfortunately her continence is one of the first things to go. We use night time underwear style diapers at the homes of other people. Nancy Thomas can come and get me, and bash me over the head with a diaper genie. If Genea doesn't need the back up, she doesn't need it but if she does it will not ruin the whole day, her clothes, or the furniture of others.
Know your child's signs of stress and look for them.
Genea can look perfectly calm, even happy, on the outside. I know she is feeling anxious because her pupils dilate. That may well be the only sign at all that she is internally dysregulated. And where does all that go if left to fester? After all, she looks good on the outside, why not take that for the truth? Here is why. Because the Wango Tango will always come out somehow. Maybe not at Grandma's for Christmas, but the next day? The next 7 unstructured days at home without school? Oh yeah, you will feel it!
Check in with your child often with physical contact.
I am always amazed when I casually hug Genea and I can feel her heart beating out of the chest cavity. Another cue she is feeling stress! I make her sit next to me and I firmly hold her. Not forcefully but as the adult in charge. We might discreetly work on breathing or counting. I will have her place her hand on her chest to feel her heart beat and work on slowing it down (I call that biofeedback for the poor, lol). We might escape to a bedroom and close the door and do some strong sitting in quiet. We can do quick brain shifts now that she is getting older and can do some academics. I might ask her to spell "frog" or do basic addition. The answer doesn't matter in the slightest- it will shift the brain out of panic and fear and away from fight/ flight/ freeze. Other ideas- ask her favorite color, favorite tv show, etc. Think of it as driving a car with a manual transmission (good God, why do those things still exist). If the car is in 1st gear going 45 miles an hour you are going to wind up with a messed up car. You have to shift to bring it into safety.
Other things that have helped Genea and I survive:
- Keep visits to other homes short. Short short short. Short as you can.
- Plate your child's food for her. A buffet style or family style meal is going to overwhelm and freak out your little loved one.
- Keep as many rules from home as possible. Example- we have a rule that you have to try everything on your plate with one bite, then you can decide not to eat it. Awkward and annoying to keep that rule at another persons home, but rules are reminders that someone is in charge and the child is safe.
- Try not to "let it go because it is a holiday". I have wound up with 2 ungrateful overstimulated brats on many occasions thinking I was giving the gift of fun and freedom from structure. Not. Good.
What about pushy relatives?
Those that are sure your RADish needs a fistful of crackers and you are just being too strict, you know them? They spend half the holiday trying to convince you that you are too hard on the child, you need to loosen up. Or the other where your child runs off totally out of control and just needs a good spanking. I have two lines that I have found will stop all opinions, second guessing, and unwanted "help".
1. Say this with your head tilted to the side and try to look tragic.
"You know, she will just never be totally sure that we won't leave her somewhere. No matter how long it has been she still doesn't quite fully believe we will bring her back home. Our rules may seem odd but she functions so much better with them".
Without fail, the "helpful" relative will make sad clucking noises, quickly look off into the distance, and wander away. I think the comment helps kick open the door that reminds people, we are not working from a regular box of chocolates.
2. Looking helpless or a little doubtful, shift the focus (blame) off of yourself.
"Mmmm hmmmm, her therapist (insert whatever professional you want) says we have to 'blank' for her to be emotionally healthy you know, after all she's been through". Around my relatives that will move immediately into a discussion about all this feelings crap in society these days, psychiatrists are nothing but drug pushers and the Big Pharmaceutical Companies are running the world. Clears the room. Get out with everyone else.
note- I realize the above idea may turn you off completely. Do what works for you. This is what has worked for me.
Now, on to gifts!
Around here, my kids get a lot of gifts. What a problem, right? No, it's not something I complain about. However with my children, too many new things at one time overwhelms them. Then they wind up playing with a box or an old cat toy from way under the couch. Spread it out.
We will do our family gifts on Thursday, 2 days before Christmas. That will give the kids most of Friday to play with their new stuff. Santa will come early the night before Christmas because.......
For the past 2 years my little neurotypical child has become so excited about Santa Claus that she vomits. She works herself so far up into a tizzy that she gets a fever going and cannot keep food down. We have had to reschedule the extended family party both years. So, Santa will come early the night before, like 7pm, instead of Christmas morning. Does that just seem not right? Kids are supposed to wake up Christmas morning at 4 am all excited and flipping out about Santa! Well, that may be how it is in all the stories but if the excitement is too much for your kids than how much fun is it going to be? Do what works for your family.
note- I had a recent epiphany about this. I wonder if Teena gets all worked up because she is wondering if Santa will leave her gifts or a lump of coal. Not quite sure if she has made the naughty or the nice list.
Anyway, like I said, these are the things that have worked for us. You may have already tried every single thing on the list and none of it worked. For me, it's about maximizing the fun and helping my RADish be successful and that may mean my day sucks. But I would feel worse if she managed to ruin the day for a bunch of other people. We will absolutely still have fallout but if we try to work at the problems ahead of time and have a plan for the other stuff, it helps.
So, opinions? Suggestions? What has worked for you and your family that is not typical? Fill me in, I will take all the help I can get!