25 Tips for Holidays with Less Stress

25 Tips for Holidays with Less Stress

By Kathy Kuhl      Feeling holiday stress? Are you as behind as I am this holiday season? I haven’t felt this far behind since I had bronchitis! Here are some things I’m doing to cope, and more ideas from others.


  1. Exercise! Both you and your children will benefit. One reason I’m writing less is that I’m going to the gym more. Exercising helps me feel better and sleep better. As my dad used to say, “The great thing about exercise is that it feels so good when you stop.”
  2. Decorate less, later. On my Facebook page, Karen pointed out that the decorations can distract kids tremendously. Kids on the spectrum can find the changes, sparkle, flashing and unfamiliar fragrances disturbing.
    If it frustrates you to use fewer ornaments, rotate the ones you use each year, so you can still enjoy all your old favorites.
    At my house, we’ll have a toddler granddaughter visiting. Rather than go nuts shooing her away, her father says, “Don’t decorate.” So we’ll keep it simple. We’ve got a tabletop tree she can’t reach, just like we did when her dad was tiny.
  1. Select and limit holiday events. Pace yourselves. You don’t have to do it all. It’s okay to leave early. On the “Just a Different Life” YouTube Channel, Debbie and Shawn suggest you might take some of your children to one event, and the rest to another, rather than everyone doing it all. (They have many children with different special needs.) Consider what events are best for each child. Some kids will find outdoor events easier.
  2. Create a monthly calendar to review with your children. Discuss what to expect at upcoming events. For some children, you’ll want to repeat these discussions often. Include sights, smells, sounds, and who will be there. Talk about the house rules at your relative’s home.
    If this is an event you have attended and you have photos from prior years, Debbie and Shawn recommend showing them to your kids. If not, they suggest drawing simple cartoons.

Visiting friends and family

  1. Talk to your relatives before you visit. Ask if there’s a good place to take your children if they need to calm down and collect themselves. Explain how your child’s special needs might require you to step out for a walk so your child calm down, bring a special food, or leave early.
    See my earlier blog for more on talking with relatives before you visit. (Links in the resource section below.)
  2. Pack things that will help your kids cope. Bring coloring books, crayons, earplugs, sunglasses, fidgets, books, snacks, and drinks, suggest Debbie and Shawn. If you bring healthy snacks that the kids really like, it will be easier for them to resist foods that they shouldn’t eat.
  3. What to wear? Chris Dendy suggests you compromise with your teens, perhaps agreeing on “no gym clothes.” But on “Just A Different Life,” Debbie and Shawn recommend taking the time and money to find acceptably good clothes that are also comfortable.
  4. Keep gift giving simple. Consider reducing the number and value of gifts. Give activities, like a ticket to a play, concert, or special sport activity.

Gifts from your kids

  1. If your young impulsive child might blurt out what a gift is, you might buy it, and put it in a box. Then have your child help you wrap it. If you refer to it only as “Grandma’s present,” your child can’t spill the secret.
  2. If they do know and blurt it out, don’t worry. It’s more important to nurture a generous attitude than to have a surprise.
  3. Find simple gifts you and your child can make together. Often, my son made peanut brittle for his scoutmaster and coop teachers. They loved it.
  4. Look for ways to help the less fortunate. One year I asked my kids, who had an overabundance to stuffed animals in very good condition, to pick one to give away. Visit a nursing home or soup kitchen after Christmas. Everyone else goes before.

    Avoiding meltdowns

  5. Watch for early signs of anxiety, suggested Shawn and Debbie. Have you seen any behaviors that clue you in? Also, give your child a conscious way to signal you when they feel stressed, perhaps a code word.
  • For my son, I provided a secret signal to remind him that he needed to calm down.
  • Shawn and Debbie also suggest bringing a babysitter or older teen who can help your child get a break.

Ten tips from Chris Dendy for helping kids with ADHD

  1. Keep a regular routine for meals and sleep.
  2. If your child takes medication, be careful. It’s easy to forget over the holidays.
  3. Allow extra travel time.
  4. Affirm good behavior and effort. (Chris meant your child’s, but this goes for adults, too. “Thanks for being so understanding about my son’s distractibility and letting us leave the table early.”)
  5. Remind your teens to leave cell phones in pockets.
  6. If you need to take the child shopping, avoid situations that cause problems. Shorten the length of shopping trips or don’t take the kids to the mall with you. Buy gifts on line.
  7. If you’re hosting a party, give your child a job to do: take food around, take coats & bags; take pictures. Temple Grandin, autistic speaker and author, credits her mother for insisting she learn to help these ways, and to greet guests and shake hands.

Chris offered these tips for presents

  1. Simplify opening presents. If your child has fine motor skills problem: use less tape, loose ribbons, put toys in bags.
  2. Help your child select gifts for others.
  3. Mothers, remind or take children and teens shopping to buy presents for their father, and visa versa. Teens may forget to buy presents and then be mortified Christmas morning.

One last tip for parents

Take care of yourself. Consider treating yourself to a copy of my little book, Staying Sane as You Homeschool. Remind yourself it’s okay not to bake Christmas cookies, mail cards, or whatever else you don’t have time for this year. Prioritize, and make your sanity a priority.


On YouTube, watch Just a Different Life on “Reducing Holiday Stress with special needs kids.” Two parents of large family with multiple special needs kids share their tips.

Chris Dendy’s Facebook page was the source of ten above. Read more, posted in late November 2018.

For adults and children, several articles from CHADD on Handling Holiday Stress with ADHD 

Sample letters and communications to relatives:

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