The holidays are here and the new year is upon us! This is a special time, but just between us, it can be an especially trying time. How do we keep our special needs kids’ emotional development on track during and after the holidays? How do we keep our own sanity on track? Depending on your specific circumstances, it is highly likely your child’s routine has been disrupted, which is an important strategy for the emotional development of kids with special needs. This year, with the extra demands of staying indoors and not seeing friends and/or family, parents are taking on more stress developing new routines for their children.

Take a deep breath and know that you are not alone. Many parents are stressed out and “not at their best” right now. In fact, Tropicana brand orange juice recently faced withering criticism when it tried to have a little fun with this. They ran a TV commercial suggesting frazzled parents “Take a Mimoment,” meaning that they sneak a mimosa when the kids aren’t looking. Although it was meant to be light-hearted, with the actors having secret mini-fridges disguised as other appliances and stocked with OJ and champagne, the backlash was swift. OK, yes, we’ll admit to having an initial chuckle, but we have to agree with the critics: not a good message, for so many reasons! Even so, it points to a shared experience that many of us are having.

Dust Off That Toolbox – Use Things You’ve Done in the Past to Help Manage Emotions

You have the tools you need to help kids manage emotions.

So what to do? Most parents of special-needs kids have a network of support, but under current circumstances, that support may be hindered or unavailable. You know that skillful planning can make the difference between a successful day and a painful meltdown, but many of their favorite activities, groups, and destinations are likely shuttered. The strategies and shortcuts you’ve devised to navigate through the day and around potential trouble spots might not do the trick. As frustrating as this is, remember that you didn’t always have these skills and you’ll develop new ones.

Keeping our kids on track for emotional development might mean dusting off some of those older items in your toolbox. Figure out a way to make them more age appropriate, now that they’ve grown a bit since you last used them. 

  • If you had a song you’d sing while doing certain chores, have them make up a new song. 
  • If there were art projects they liked doing, like painting with watercolors, update that. 
  • If they’re old enough, help them paint their room a new color or paint a mural on one wall. 
  • If they are fashionable, set aside some time to decorate facemasks. Making personalized face masks for family, friends, neighbors, or even the mail-carrier and Amazon delivery person is a great way to honor this difficult time with a bit of flair. 

Giving ways to feel a sense of accomplishment is a great way to help kids learn to manage emotions!

Schedules and Visual Prompts Can Go a Long Way Towards Helping Kids Manage Emotions

Knowing what to expect helps kids manage emotions.

A sense of predictability and rhythm helps all kids maintain a sense of stability. Knowing what to expect and knowing that “it’s on the calendar” helps kids be more accepting and cuts down on negotiating. Many of our kitchens feature a monthly calendar posted with all the family’s activities, but families with extra challenges need extra organizing assistance. Schedules and visual prompts can be of great benefit in helping kids manage emotions.

Create a Weekly Calendar to Hang on the Wall

Many special-needs kids are extremely visual, so being able to see what the day will bring can be helpful. Perhaps you can make a weekly calendar using a poster-size whiteboard.

  • You can attach a strip of Velcro along the bottom and glue Velcro to index cards.
  • Add photos or draw different activities, places, and chores on the index cards. This way, each day, they can see what they are doing or where they are going.
  • Make it a family routine to set the board up together on Sunday afternoons. This will give you a chance to talk about anything special or unusual coming up.
  • Keep the index cards and extra Velcro handy so that when a new activity or outing is planned, they can help make a new card for it.

Create a Visual Daily Schedule

A similar strategy can be used for charting out a daily schedule.

  • Draw out the times of the day and what chores/activities correspond to them on a magnetizable white board.
  • Use a fun magnet, like the first letter of their name, to indicate their progress.
  • When they complete a step or task, they get to move their magnet along the board.
  • Very predictable daily activities like brushing their teeth or feeding a pet could be on one line.
  • A second line can be used for things that are going to occur just on that day. If you are computer savvy, try creating a daily or weekly schedule that you can print and tape to the white board.
  • If you make them colorful and “fun,” it will help kids get through more difficult tasks, like morning chores.
  • When they get stuck, you can ask, “What’s next?” and get them back on track. It’s a great way to cut down on stress and reduce the likelihood of meltdowns.

Zoom with Grandma/pa (And Aunts and Uncles)

Staying connected to important people in their lives helps kids manage emotions.

We know you’re probably “Zoomed out,” but connection to family is so important, we couldn’t resist. All kids want to feel like they are part of a larger clan and keeping connected to those important people is crucial now more than ever. And as mentioned above, a regular schedule and things to look forward to can help manage emotions. Be sure that that special family member understands the importance of continuity and knows not to cancel or reschedule.

Online Resources

There are literally hundreds of options for help online. Great ideas, strategies, and tools to help you keep your child’s emotional development on track. At HAPPÉ, we have programs designed to build social, emotional, and mental health skills in as little as 90 seconds a week. Our Mission I’m Possible and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) programs are designed specifically to empower kids with tools that raise their self-awareness of their internal processes. If you can increase a child’s connection to positivity and help them stay present in the moment, then their brain experiences a “happiness advantage.” This can increase energy, productivity, and creativity while reducing stress and anxiety. If your brain starts out happy, you are more likely to be more productive and eventually successful.

Just as important, though, remember that there are forums for you to reach out to for emotional support for parents. We can’t give if our own well is dry. Find a Facebook group, online parents forum, or local support group to help you stay present in the moment. Not only are ideas for helping special-needs kids shared, but just hearing others tell their stories and relate their struggles will help you feel more sane.

And, of course, never admit to the kids that the reason for your far-off smile is the image of a secret mini-fridge stocked with champagne!

Feel free to contact us with any comments or questions you may have. Generally, we respond to emails within two business days. And if you found this blog post interesting, please feel free to share it on your social media!