Celebrating Special Days

If your family celebrates special days, sometimes these celebrations can be confusing to young children or children with disabilities. Many families celebrate birthdays, holidays, and religious days, but we often do not realize the anxiety that some children may experience during these times. After all, a birthday party is supposed to be fun, right? But think about the times we have been to a birthday party and everyone starts singing, and the birthday child all of sudden starts crying, hiding behind mom, or holding his hands over his eyes or ears? One way we can decrease uncertainty during these special celebrations is to start preparing our child ahead of time.

A couple of weeks before you go to the celebration, start reading books to your child about the particular celebration. Find a video on YouTube of people celebrating or an episode of a children’s program which talks about the celebration. Talk to your child about what will happen at the event and who will be there. You can show your child photographs of different family members who will attend and talk about them. For older children, you can explain why certain things are happening. Some children might benefit from making a picture board. For example, a birthday party might include a cake, blowing out the candles, presents, pictures of friends, and a game you plan to play. You can hang this in your child’s room and refer to it up until the party. You can pretend to blow out candles and sing happy birthday to some of your child’s stuffed animals. 

If you already know that your child has significant anxiety in situations, you may choose to have a small birthday gathering and instead of everyone peering down at your child to sing, he can join in the singing too along with those stuffed animals to whom you have been singing all week. If you are going to a large gathering for a family holiday, arrive early so your child is not being introduced to a big crowd. This way, you both can watch as family members walk in the door, and you can remind your child of each family member’s name. Most importantly, take your child’s lead while at the celebration. If he needs a break, go to a quiet room and read those books about the celebration as a reminder of why you are there. Preparing your child ahead of time, arriving early to events, and being mindful of heading off an anxious moment will provide you and your child with a great celebration! 

-Margie Busby, M.S. CCC-SLP