by Meg Carroll

One of the biggest concerns of parents at various times of the year is how to live through the holidays.  Good preparation and laying a foundation will help to make the holidays more meaningful.  Holidays also provide a way to integrate learning with family activities.

As we approach the holidays, a common complaint of adults about children is that they expect too much.  “His gift list stretches into the next county!”  “Do they think we are made of money?”  Children’s expectations are fueled by the media, especially television and catalogs.  However, expectations also arise from parents frantically worrying about gifts (“What should I get for Grandpa?” “I hate to buy for Cousin Maria,” etc.), and suddenly making locations in the house off limits, believing the children will respect those limits.

It is entirely within the control of parents to refocus children’s attention to some degree.  Begin by emphasizing what children can get or do FOR OTHERS, not what they themselves will receive.  Most families will find that trying to meet the needs of others will mean that planning must begin early.  No one paycheck can support holiday buying, and if you decide to make presents, you will need time.  Concentrating on others does not give children much of a chance to get drawn into the “What’s for me?” syndrome.

Begin by making a space in your home for storage of the items for family members.  Encourage children to make lists of those people who will receive gifts and ideas of what to get or make for them.  Then choose a time every week or so to shop, create gifts, and wrap.  Once a person’s gift is complete, wrap it and label it.  Store it in the place set aside for this.  We use brown paper bags marked for each family and store them in the attic.  Then move onto preparing a different person’s or family’s gift.

Practice skills for learning by making some gifts, following directions from craft books or recipes from cookbooks.  There are numerous books available in both the children’s and adults’ sections of your local public library and thousands of ideas online as well.

Conduct some research in the community and find out if there is a family who may need assistance or shelters seeking supplies and gifts.  Churches and social service agencies may be helpful.

Rehearse budget-making and route-planning as part of your activities.  Map skills will get a workout as you decide what route to follow for delivering the presents.  Making and sticking to a budget will help to bring economics alive for your children.

Perhaps money is tight in your house and there is little left for gifts or helping others.  Simple fund raisers, such as taking aluminum cans to a recycling center or clipping coupons and watching for sales, may allow you to help others anyway.

Pick a craft project for each week or so before your special holiday and work together as a family to make an ornament or other decoration.  Save these in one place until it is close to the holiday and have fun decorating your home.  Make these occasions stand out by serving special treats that might even become a tradition, such as hot chocolate or Uncle Vernon’s lemon cookies.

Children with learning disabilities often struggle with the concept of time.  As soon as they see holiday decorations in a store, they think the holiday must be imminent.  They may need an actual calendar on which the holiday dates are shown and they can count down with the calendar.

Saying they want one thing and then changing their minds dozens of times is also typical of children and might be especially common for children with learning disabilities who may have short attention spans.  Help cushion your children against disappointment by helping them see the fun in opening a gift and having all year to choose to use it or not.

Lots of adults and some children are depressed during the holidays or when they are over, wondering why the actual events didn’t live up to their expectations.  Taking the time to enjoy the preparation and not saving all of the excitement for one moment or day will help.  In addition, knowing that you spent more time planning for and meeting the needs of others will make this holiday exceed expectations in filling you and your children with joy and satisfaction.

Dr. Meg Carroll is a Professor, at Saint Xavier University, Chicago, IL, where she prepares special educators and provides professional development for inservice teachers and parent education for families.  She is a Board Member, Past President, and Newsletter Editor for LDA of Illinois and a member of the LDA of America Professional Advisory Board. 

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