I’m so glad you’re joining me for 5 Keys to a Calm Christmas! I’ve been praying for each of you, and asking God to help me share information that will bring more peace to your Christmas season.

If this is the first time we’ve “met,” I’ll tell you a little bit about my family! As you can see from the picture above, we have two boys: David and James. James has level-3 autism, which means he’s mostly non-verbal and needs lots of help for daily tasks. My husband is a pastor, so this time of year is especially busy for our family.

Today we’re starting with one of the biggest challenges at our house—the lack of routine when we’re out for Christmas break. Even though it’s just two weeks, those two weeks are packed with extra church services and family activities. No day is exactly like the one before, and for our kids who thrive on routine, this can be really hard.

I have a few practical ideas to share below, but I first want to share my go-to phrase for Christmas break:

The less flexible my child is, the more flexible I need to be. 

I’m the adult and I have to act like it, even when I’m feeling stressed or embarrassed. That means I may have to bend some of my usual standards to keep the peace.

For example, I have a friend with three kids on the autism spectrum, and we talked about what was causing the most stress in her day. “When they don’t make their beds it sets me off in the mornings. I get angry, and they shut down. It can ruin the entire day.” Here’s my solution: don’t make them make their beds. If it’s that stressful, is a made bed really worth it? Doesn’t sound like it. Or, take steps to decrease the stress before or after they are supposed to make their beds. The night before you can go over the schedule for tomorrow morning: “After you get dressed and put your pajamas in the dirty clothes hamper, you make your bed.” On the way out the door if you notice it isn’t done, make another plan, “As soon as we get back, we’re going to make your bed together.”

We have to be flexible when we go out to eat, when we ride in the car for a long time, when our kids have to wear clothes they don’t like. Whatever situation is the most challenging in your day, find a way to be more flexible, to give in a little so the entire day doesn’t break apart.

Last year Hurricane Harvey hit our area. As I watched the newscasts, especially from the coast, I noticed the palm trees bending as the wind whipped by, gusting well over 100 miles per hour. They bent, but they didn’t break. Why? Because God created them to be flexible. I don’t want to break this Christmas season, so I will remember the palm tree and be flexible when it’s best for my family.

Here are other ways we’ve learned to help our kids when they are out of their routine:

  • We use “first, then” throughout the day. “First we’ll eat breakfast, then you can get on your iPad,” or “First we’ll go to church, then we’ll go to Grandma’s house and open presents.” It helps James to know what’s coming next.
  • Make a visual schedule. This was so helpful for us over summer break! I printed out pictures of him doing most of the activities we did in a week. Then I put them on a dry-erase board in order of our day. Even small things like “read books” and “rest time” were on the board. That way he knew what to expect for the entire day.
  • Use a timer. For James we use a visual timer so he can see how much time is left until the next activity. For our older son David (who is typical, but also thrives on routine and doesn’t like being surprised), we can just give him a count down, “You have 10 more minutes on the X-box and then you need to get ready to go out to lunch with us.”

These three tips helped make summer smoother, so we’ll be using them over Christmas break as well!

Tomorrow we’ll be talking about the sensory challenges of Christmas (including sleep and traveling challenges). On Wednesday we’ll talk about how to deal with others’ expectations on our families, and on Thursday we’ll deal with our own expectations and the grief and jealousy that can creep into our hearts. On Friday we’ll talk about building relationships with those who get it, who can empathize with our situations and provide biblical encouragement. Hope you can join me each day! I’ll be praying we’ll all be like palm trees this Christmas season.

Last month I released Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family. In January, we’ll be reading it together! Sign up to join us.

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