This time of year stinks. The holidays are over. No more parties, the decorations are coming down, and the anticipation is gone. It’s still dark as hades out there at an ungodly hour of day, and the weather generally isn’t cooperating as well. For us, here in the crazy weather of up-one-day-frigid-the-next Virginia, we’re just now entering our snow season and everything is dreary and chilly.
For kids with intensities, this after-Christmas let down is hard. Super hard. My kids hate it – they want the fun and the festive back instead of the boring and normal. It takes work and understanding on our part to help them deal with the let down and emotional drop after the holidays. Here are a few of the things we do, and tips we use to help them transition back to “normal” life.
I just typo’d “life” as “lice.” I sincerely hope that we can stick to boring and normal instead of THAT!
1. Routine is the thing
We don’t build Christmas up a lot. Sure, we go do special things, we see Santa, and we drive around looking at Christmas lights (family tradition) among other things, but we try to keep life normal. Our routine is the same even during holiday break. We might break the routine a little to go out later than normal, but we don’t let the kids stay up super late or push them to go do “all the things.” We certainly don’t build up hype about Christmas and opening gifts.
We even continue to do some school through break because it helps the kids stay focused and keeps a sense of normalcy going. It might be a light load, or a little review, but we do school off and on.
2. Build it up slowly
Just like routine is key, so is building the anticipation in a gradual way. We don’t pin all the anticipation on one big day. We use advent calendars (chocolate and Lego this year) to help the kids understand the time involved. That would have been more effective this year if my youngest hadn’t snuck his chocolate calendar off the counter and chowed down on multiple days at once.
We limit special holiday events and space them out throughout the month so that it’s not a whirlwind of activities. This year, we didn’t even have a homeschool Christmas party – something that seriously helped my stress levels.
We do our holiday decorating right after Thanksgiving so that the kids have time to get used to it. In some cases, like the Christmas tree, we take the decorations back down if the kids can’t handle it. I think our tree was up for a grand total of 5 days this year. It wasn’t worth the problems so I removed the issue.
3. Know your kid
This goes without saying, but know your kids and get them gifts they truly want or need. With some fun factor to it. Some of my worst Christmas let-downs as a kid were because I didn’t get what I asked for or something fun, and I knew I wouldn’t now that Christmas was over.
Some of our kids are hard to buy for. Which is why I wait until almost the very last minute to get them a gift, to make sure that they don’t change their mind and their Christmas list. I’m lucky that we have good shopping options that allow me to do this.
4. Spread it out
We don’t go overboard for gifts, because we set a limit on what we spend (ok, I kind of went slightly over this year, oops.) We also limit the number – because we’re still very much in that “fair” stage where everything has to be the same or meltdowns happen. Our extended family doesn’t go overboard either, which helps tremendously. Even with these kinds of limits, the sheer number of boxes or presents can be too much all at one time for our intense kids to handle.
I try to limit the actual Christmas day gifts to no more than 3 per kid. If everyone opens 3 presents, that’s a lot of mess, toys, and general “stuff” laying around. Past 3, and it’s too much.
This year, we opened gifts on the first day my husband was off work, Christmas Eve, Christmas day, a random day things came in the mail, and the day after Christmas. That’s 5 days to spread out the gifts!
The bonus of this approach is that the kids tend to appreciate each gift more than if they opened everything in one big rush. My mother-in-law’s thoughtful handmade gifts would be ignored in favor of a flashy toy if we did it all together. By doing it this way, the kids practice thankfulness, appreciation, and gratitude – all things we struggle with due to intensities.
5. Do fun stuff after Christmas
Our family tends to turtle after a busy time of year like Christmas. I don’t want to go do much if I’m stressed out and tired. My solution for that is to cut back the stress and do less leading up to Christmas, so that I have the energy to go out after. We go to indoor playgrounds, head out on field trips, and go outside if the weather isn’t a total wet muddy mess.
For the kids, getting to go do something they love after the holiday helps them feel like life hasn’t upended with the holiday craziness. Of course, we would do some of this stuff anyway, but making a concerted effort to get out of the house helps a lot.
6. Get back to normal slowly
The hardest day after Christmas is when my husband goes back to work. It’s a sudden jerk back into our normal, and the kids feel like they’re neglected or they’re missing out on attention. Because of this difficult transition, I try to ease into things. We don’t jump right back into school routines on the same day – we might go out and do a field trip, or we might have a lazy school day with educational videos and games. They need focus and things to do or they can’t handle not having dad’s attention.
My kids struggle with transitions and they’re high needs. Giving them a slow transition into our standard routine helps tremendously. Because of this, I schedule routine classes and activities to start back after the new year – and after we’ve eased back into school. Plus, this gives me a nice break too!
7. Something random
At some point here in the next few weeks, I’m going to wrap up a little present for each of them and have them do a scavenger hunt for it. It’s random, it’s unexpected, and it’s fun. Plus it’s educational if I do it right! It doesn’t have to be the same thing every year, but it does need to be fun. It helps make the point that holidays are not the only fun times in the year.
I hope these tips and ideas are helpful for your family too – and I would love to hear how you combat the after-Christmas let down. What works for your family? Let me know in the comments!