This time of year can certainly be so much fun, right? Holidays! Movies! Music! Treats! But the Holidays can sometimes be stressful with changing routines, family dynamics, big emotions, and lately, the continued impacts of COVID-19.
To try to help everyone have the happiest holidays possible, here are three socialization tips tailored to help young adults with I/DD and their parents.
Pick Your Battles.
A common issue between parents and young adults is that the young adults may naturally start wanting to do things their way (e.g. choose to stay home from something. Wear a particular outfit. Request to socialize more with their peers than family). This can create a lot of distress for both parents and young adults if something comes up that everyone doesn’t easily agree on.
Or, perhaps the opposite: some folks find change very challenging, and when issues like COVID-19 adaptation, or scheduling, or routine disruption suddenly come up, distress can happen. I gently suggest both parents and young adults “pick your battles.” Ask yourself: why DO I celebrate at this time of year? What’s really important to me? Am I leaving my young adult room to become a grown up, developing their own holiday customs? Am I being fair to my parents, who are trying hard to balance a lot of things?
I argue, ultimately, this time of year is about coming together in kindness, love and support. Can we all talk together about mutually respectful ways to create our plans?
Be in touch with your feelings, and make room for them
It is absolutely normal for lots of different emotions to come up this time of year, especially considering the last year or two we’ve all had. It can bring up happiness and excitement, but grief is also a common feeling. It can come up related to love ones who’ve passed away, or missing the way things used to be pre-pandemic. It can also come up for parents and young adults, feeling a kind of bitter-sweetness about things being different at the holidays now that kids have grown up.
Grief can be expressed differently in everyone: sadness, tears, anger, aggression, shouting, or clinging even harder to physical routines. Besides grief, we might also feel tired, frustrated, and worried. Don’t be tempted to just “put on a happy face” during all your celebrating by pushing away emotions. That usually just makes them come out another way, like being grumpy or mean to others.
Whatever you are feeling this year, get in touch with it. Perhaps talk about feelings with family. Find ways to include what we’re feeling in healthy ways in holiday activities. Consider activities like looking at old photos and talking about feelings. Write a special holiday feelings journal entry. Find ways to welcome and affirm your feelings, as processing them may help you have more contentment and connection with others.
Take Breaks and honor others if they say they need breaks
This can be such a busy time of year. There is the stimulation of all the decorations, music, and energy of others. Plus the common routine disruption to add parties, and take program breaks. This can put a lot of stress on folks with I/DD, and their parents. Again, know this is normal. Even if Aunt Gertrude is saying you simply must come to her annual party you all never miss, tell Aunt Gertrude she might want to learn what demands like this can do for someone with sensory sensitivities, or social anxiety.
Remember to nourish yourself. There will be more sweets around than usual. Hydrate with water and get in those veggies and proteins. Rest, take breaks, and do what makes these days meaningful in your heart. Aunt Gertrude loves you anyway, I promise. If you need to stay home, tell her, and tell her why. And if she’s a total grump – why do we even worry what she thinks anyway? Stop being a grump, Gertrude! We’re all in this together. I suggest we put the focus on care & love, and show each other the real & beautiful reasons we gather this time of year.