Avoiding meltdowns during holidays: Whether your family is participating in the same holiday traditions and gatherings as usual, or modifying your plans due to COVID-19, holidays can be a time where children (and grownups!) may feel overstimulated, overwhelmed, or anxious while out of their usual routines. Talk with your client’s caregiver, or complete some of these activities with your client to help prepare them for any upcoming events:
Preparation is key! The more predictable a child’s routine, the less likely they are to feel overwhelmed. Make a visual or written schedule or social story to help children know what to expect when on break from school or visiting others. For younger children, looking at pictures (i.e. a picture of Grandma’s house, Googling pictures of foods that may be offered, or looking through a family photo album of the cousins they will be meeting) can help prepare for new or novel experiences.
Try to keep a few things the same: For younger children and teens alike, keeping similar bedtime and wakeup hours can help keep their bodies regulated even when out of school. Pack some familiar snacks and toys if going on a road trip, or encourage caregivers to keep a similar routine (perhaps reading books together before bed) even when the rest of the routine might be different.
Plan for moments of overstimulation: Make a plan ahead of time for what your client can do if they feel overstimulated, anxious, or irritable. Can they find a quiet room in the house to take a break? Can an older teen volunteer to take the car and run an errand? Utilize music, books, or art supplies to create a quieter activity for the client to engage in if they need a break.
Allow space to grieve: For many children, holidays may look different this year if they’re not able to participate in the usual traditions or family gatherings due to COVID-19. Encourage caregivers (and make space in sessions) to allow the child to express what they miss about “normal” holidays and validate their feelings of sadness, frustration, or loneliness, even while encouraging the child to choose 1-2 things that they are looking forward to.
Sample progress note: The focus of this session was… The therapist helped Ct (or Ct and caregiver) to identify and plan for several coping strategies that the Ct can use during upcoming changes in routine due to holidays and school breaks. Ct (or Ct and caregiver) identified (name 1-2 strategies) to assist with emotional regulation that they could use.
Couples strategy of the week:
Family Holiday Traditions: Creating shared meaning can help couples feel more satisfied with their relationship and more connected. Holiday traditions are a great way to incorporate shared meaning into a relationship. Here are some questions to start refining and creating holiday traditions:
What holiday traditions do you already have? What do you like about those traditions? What would make them more fulfilling for you as a couple?
What holiday traditions did your families have growing up?
What is your favorite part of the holidays or the season? How might you incorporate that into a tradition?
What is meaningful to both of you about the holidays?
Sample progress note: The focus of this session was… The therapist helped the couple create a sense of shared meaning in their relationship by exploring how holiday traditions can strengthen their relationship. The couple explored how their current holiday traditions, holiday traditions in their families of origin, and their values related to holidays impact their relationship.
Adult strategy of the week:
Personal Bill of Rights During the Holidays: During holiday seasons, many people feel pulled in several different directions at once, making them feel trapped, isolated, or stuck. Although the Personal Bill of Rights is something that can be used at any time of year, it can be especially relevant during the holidays.
Sample Progress Note: The focus of this session was… The therapist helped the client process stressors related to the holidays (e.g., interpersonal distress) and reviewed a Personal Bill of Rights to help the client determine their needs and boundaries during the holiday season. The client was (able to/somewhat able to/etc) identify and express their emotions in session, and they reported that reviewing the Personal Bill of Rights was (helpful/hard/impractical/etc).
Sample Progress Note: The focus of this session was… The therapist led a meditation activity (Holiday Stress Meditation). Ct. (engaged/did not engage in the activity), and they reported that the activity was (helpful/difficult/not helpful).
Start by settling your mind and body by taking a few deep breaths. Mindfulness practice is an opportunity to build an ability to observe without our normal reactive spirals. For a few moments, we take a break from escalating our holiday stress.
Check in. Notice whatever is going on for you right now, and then come back to the breath. Whether you feel stressed, relaxed, or anything else, for a moment, let it all be. Without judgment or expectation, just notice it all, and come back to the next breath.
Now, picture the next few weeks. Take a moment to notice what comes to mind when you picture the holiday season. How does your body feel: is it tight, or restless, or even nauseated, or exhausted? Notice that, and let it be, and then come back to the breath.
Label emotions. What emotions arise? Maybe there is some mix of excitement and joy and dread and tiredness. Where do your thoughts go? Perhaps there’s a conflicting swirl of pictures of what might be, stress over what seems possible, or ruminative planning over parties, and presents, and travel.
Relax into the breath. Right now, there’s nothing to do, no one to be, nowhere to go. In this moment, sitting, this is all there is. Some other time might be for acting or thinking. Right now, take care of anything emergent, but otherwise let go of fixing and moving, and focus on the next breath again.
Shift your attention to someone you care about. Now take a few moments to focus on your friends and family. Picture them, and wish them well, wherever they are: peace, or health, or safe travels.
Now focus on yourself. This is a time of stress, perhaps. Wish yourself whatever you did for your family: ease, or peace, or happiness. Take a moment to be grateful for whatever comes to mind.
Practice, as best as you’re able, letting go. That picture of the meal, or that snub, or a storm derailing your plan—they’re all just thoughts. Label it all, if you like, thought. Don’t wrestle with it, and don’t engage with it quite as much. Note: thought, and then come back to… Breathing in, and breathing out.
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