How To Do Christmas With Your Learning Disabled Child

by | Dec 25, 2019

Every young family struggles at Christmas to keep the group calm and cooperative. Many years ago, my husband and I were just another typical family anticipating Christmas with our one and two-year-old children. That Christmas we had just moved ourselves with our two small children from a one-bedroom apartment in Campbell, CA to a three-bedroom house on a grassy knoll in Redding, CA. I had so much to be grateful for.

Our new occupational and physical therapy business had been welcomed and supported by the community. We were thrilled with our new house and new life. It was a good Christmas.

My husband and I usually gave each other a homemade tape cassette of music for a Christmas gift. The year prior, however, we modernized ourselves and gave one another a brand new CD. This year, this fabulous year, we each gave one another 10 CDs. That felt like the most extravagant of extravagant Christmas gifts on that beautiful Christmas morning!

Our one and two-year-old children, however, hadn’t slept the night before and had no interest in presents on Christmas morning. At mid-morning, their nap time was a no-go. Yikes!

After a cranky lunch, and discontentment expressed over the Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too video, a repeat attempt at napping failed.

To make matters worse, my parents were visiting and proved to be a very a disapproving audience. It was like being in a fishbowl with our family dynamics being played out on stage.

Our living room at home was setup with only a few bits of garage sale furniture, inviting our children’s first steps and ball tossing as well as other games. We had so little furniture that we called the empty spaces great halls and galleries.

Perfect kid home, right? Wrong. My visiting parents had different values of balls in the house and catch-me-catch-me games in the gallery. We allowed running indoors and these values were sorely in conflict with Mom and Dad’s view of parenting. 

My parents tolerated exactly three bounces of the ball before ball bouncing become “bad behavior”. I found it hard to know where to draw the line or what the line was. I was thrilled to see the throwing arm of my daughter, but conflicted as this was not valued by my folks.

My husband and I wondered if every Christmas would be this hard. We tried to figure out just what it is about the holiday season that makes parenting so much harder?

“Merry Christmas!” “Have a happy winter break!” “Have a great holiday season!” Although these well wishes are kind, the holiday season can be very challenging to new parents. During family holidays, new parents must meld their emerging parenting morals with that of their hosts or guests. 

This is difficult enough with typical children. With learning disabled children, the stress is even greater. What is overwhelming for typical children can cause complete melt-downs for unique learners as they try, unsuccessfully, to process all the stimulation.

Think of all the excitement, the intense anticipation about what is inside those brightly wrapped packages, fascinating ornaments dangling within easy reach that are so very tempting to touch and play with these, it’s a lot to take in. New people, new surroundings and so many shiny, beautiful things can tip the scale of self-control for any of us!

Here are five things you can do to minimize the possibility of a meltdown in your child with a learning disability. (And in the rest of your members of the family…)

  • Adjust Your Expectations

Throughout Christmas break, recognize the challenges to your family’s normal structure. Notice the changes in rhythm of day to day life within your home.

Realize that the high expectations you have, could be the biggest problem.

During that first Christmas in Redding, I expected to get a made from scratch pie in the oven in under 60 minutes. Easy to do so when it was just my husband and I. With two babies, it took me all day. Flour was all over the kitchen.

It was Christmas and I was focused on the stress of making a pie versus the enjoyment of myself and my family. Don’t do what I did.  

  • Reduce Holiday Commitments

Ensure you thin down your social calendar to a level that is healthy for your entire group. This will vary depending on the ages of your children and the special needs of your child with a learning disability. Don’t allow your early excitement to overload your schedule. This often creates the opposite of the fun you anticipated.

Allow your best judgement for your learning disabled child to take first place. Don’t even allow yourself to consider what others want might think if you turn down an invitation. You are not creating a lifelong relationship with them. Family first. Above all, don’t stress about the pie!

  • Watch for Signs of Overload

If I could have anticipated and better understood the upset to our daily routine, I could have watched for red flags and put myself in “time out”.

Planning in advance is very helpful in recognizing the sign posts when things are going sideways in your day. Deep breathes, a little break, and carrying on with a sense of humor is a must.

While it is obvious that a plan to limit children’s stress is important, it is even more important to manage your own stress!

  • Know the Signs

One teacher I worked with could sense when his students were becoming overwhelmed. He said he could tell when children were past the point of self-awareness and needing help in getting their concentration back on track. His remedy was always physical movement for his learning disabled students.

Just as in school, there is a difference between moving around and messing around. At home there is a difference in playing and teasing. Recognizing when children need help shifting their mindset can help family days be calm days.

  • Strategies for Calming the Chaos

Movement games, new and stimulating group activities or board games, as well as outdoor adventures all invite a welcome change to the restless frame of mind. We want to change the pace for children and adults.

Perhaps plan on a brief family outing or a silly dance time scheduled daily over the course of the winter break. Keep in mind that the holiday season can be a time for your family to recharge together and create fun memories in the process.

Children with learning disabilities have a harder time than most in processing change in routines. Be aware of your child’s unique needs and remember that it’s their Christmas, too. As a family you must all work together as a unit to see one another through the fun and the stress. Each of you have so much to learn about yourselves and how you function as a group. What you learn together will create a lifetime of compassion and opportunities that will be treasured and valued by all you encounter. There is truly nothing so inspiring as seen a loving family work together. It touches us all.

Merry Christmas!




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