I love celebrating the holidays and continuing the traditions we are creating as a family: going to concerts and parties, playing board games, baking, planning gifts, wrapping surprises. Selfishly, I am looking forward to some uninterrupted holiday time for myself too: to rest or curl up in a quiet corner with a good book, to make crafts, to visit with adults.
Finding that time is a challenge. My son’s voice and his needs seem to take over the majority of my time: “Mom, I need help.” “Mom, can you do this for me?” “When are we leaving?” “Can I have something to eat?”
This constant reliance on our immediate attention has become our mode of operation. Perhaps we have attended to our son’s needs too well. At what point do we pull in the reins and slow down our drive to immediately provide answers and assistance? If the time is now (and I’m pretty sure it is) how we do it?
My child needs a lot of assistance with everything. At eight years old, physically disabled and developmentally delayed, how could anyone say no? It’s hard to even say, “Wait.” However, he needs to develop these skills (even if that skill is just waiting patiently) and I need more breathing room.
My Christmas gift to you is to share two strategies that have worked magically for me. I hope that these golden gifts will give you some breathing room and will teach your child valuable lessons in patience and empathy.
Strategy one: Stop and Go Signs
Use these signs give a visual reminder of when mom or dad need time to themselves and what is expected of the child. Children need to understand that there will be times when they are expected to occupy themselves and not interrupt mom and / or dad.
Make a Stop Sign: draw or print out a picture of a stop sign. Write the words: Busy - No demands at this time.
Make a Go Sign: draw or print out a picture of a green go light. Write the words: Good time to ask for help.
- Present the signs to your child. Explain what they mean.
- Set your child up with toys, a project, books, whatever he can handle independently. Hang the Stop Sign up (on the refrigerator or a central location) and explain that you are taking 5 or 10 minutes for yourself.
- Use your time.
- Do not allow any interruptions.
- Enforce this rule immediately with a negative consequence for any interruption (such as a 15 minute earlier bedtime)
- After 5 or 10 minutes, hang up the Go Sign and offer assistance as needed.
- Gradually increase the amount of time you expect your child to occupy himself.
I knew Evan understood this concept when I told him I needed a little quiet time to finish some work and he asked if he should put up the red Stop Sign. Mission accomplished.
Strategy two: The Pass
Use passes to teach the skill of waiting patiently. The excitement of an upcoming event can be somewhat overwhelming to a child with special needs. The ability to understand the concept of time is complex and not easily mastered.
Example: Your child knows that there is a party at the end of the day and keeps asking about it until you go bonkers. “When are we leaving? Who will we see? What will I wear?” Even though you have answered these questions over and over again, he still asks.
Make two passes (could be one, could be three – whatever works for you). On a piece of paper write Pass # 1 – you may ask about the ________ (fill in the blank). If you are going to do multiple passes, number them accordingly.
- Give the passes to your child.
- Explain that it is now 9 a.m. Count the hours until the party on your fingers. Explain how much time it is until the party.
- Give all the answers to all the questions about the party.
- Say, “These are your two passes to ask about the party again. I know you are excited, but we have other things we need to do today and we don’t need to keep asking the same questions over and over. If you really need to ask again, you’ll need to give me a pass. When they are gone, that’s it. No more questions. So use them carefully.”
I knew this strategy worked when Evan started to ask a question about a concert later on in the day and then said, “No, I’m not ready to give you my pass yet.”
Evan is eight and operates at about a 6-year-old developmental level. These strategies work really well for us. I could have started using them much earlier, had I thought of them! Perhaps your child is ready for these strategies too. If so, use them and create a little time and peace for yourself during the holidays and in the year to come.