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As the holidays approach our baseline anxiety levels have a tendency to rise. I have had countless conversations over the last few years about how the excitement, connectedness and love we felt during the holidays as children has somehow shifted to a ticking time bomb of nerves. These nerves get in the way of the things we enjoy about the holidays, and sometimes over shadow them. This can leave you with that sour look on your face as you see “November” at the top of your calendar, inviting in the next thought: “I have so much to do.” This year, I invite you to try on a new holiday mantra, “I have love to give.” I have put together a list of ways you can give the gift of love, fun, and connectedness to yourself and to your children.

While spontaneity certainly has its place, I have learned that routine and order often make things easier. Thus, I have put together a list of ways you can incorporate giving the gift of love and connection into your morning routine. I encourage you to try it five days a week for two weeks before you decide to let it go. Adding another week will help you make this part of your morning routine a habit.

    • Find fun in waking up: When you wake up your child consider adding a tag line. This can be something you like to say in the morning, or a quote from a movie or song that you like. It could be putting on the soundtrack from your child’s favorite TV show and playing along: “Your first mission is to get in the shower and save your hair from the drain monster. I bet you can save 3 hairs from going down the drain!”
    • Brush with a song: You both need to brush your teeth. How about you put on one of your favorite songs and brush your teeth together? After the brushing timer runs out, spend the last minute of the song dancing and singing along. Leaving the bathroom fresh and fun.
    • Play restaurant at breakfast: In an accent announce, “Today’s specials are Cheerios with almond milk and toast with avocado. Can I take your order?” It may take a few tries, but eventually you both may enjoy incorporating a little pretend into the normal morning routine. As this expands, try using different accents and see if your little restaurant attendee is up for the challenge. Not challenging enough? How about your child pretends to be the waiter or waitress? Don’t forget to tip!
    • Preview and inspire: Individuals on the spectrum often anticipate common experiences as much as their neurotypical counterparts. By sharing what we are expecting to do and experience while they are at school, we provide our child with multiple opportunities. For example, a parent may share: “I’m anticipating this presentation I have to do at work today, I always get a little nervous when I have to talk in front of people.”  Here are some of the possibilities that may occur if this were shared:
      • They are not alone: You have allowed your child to know your mental experiences intimately. If nothing else, they now know that, like them, you experience challenges, and you do things that make you uncomfortable. This alone is a huge lesson.
      • Empathy: Your child may say nothing at all, but they might think, “poor mom, I hate doing that stuff.”
      • Previewing: Your child might think, “Wait, what I am I doing today at school…oh yeah, I have to get ready for my presentation tomorrow. I get nervous talking in front of people too, I better practice with my friend at lunch.”
    • Saying goodbye with the right sensory fit: Consider your child’s sensory likes and dislikes to find a goodbye ritual that feels right. While referring to an Occupational Therapist is always helpful for my clients that experience sensory challenges, I often consider whether the child could benefit from increased or decreased sensory input.
      • For those that crave vestibular input or lots of movement, try a hug where you spin them around. If they are too big, try rocking side to side when you hug.
      • For individuals who love pressure, give them a nice firm squeeze, maybe lifting them off the ground.
      • For those that easily become overwhelmed by sensory input, try a fist pump (with a personalized explosion) or a secret handshake.

As a Couples and Family Therapist and an RDI Consultant, I can’t stress the importance of individualization enough. If one of these ideas sounds like something you would love to incorporate into your day but there are obstacles getting in the way, reach out and brainstorm ways to customize the activity to make it a better fit for your family. I am constantly awed by the incredible ability my clients have to better their situations by simply sharing, reflecting and implementing. If you are not currently working with an RDI Consultant, consider talking to a friend, partner or therapist.

Here’s a tip: Identify the “Just Right Challenge”. The “Just Right Challenge” is the place where challenge meets competency. It turns on our brains and says, “This is interesting, I think I might just be able to do it! Wait, this is tricky. Woah, look at me…I’m doing it.”  When people engage in their “just right challenge”, the effect is two-fold. First, they have a positive experience with challenge and are more likely to try things they would usually avoid. Secondly, their resilience builds, they come to realize that when challenges occur it doesn’t mean “I’m done”, it means “I’m engaged”. This builds grit, which has recently been recognized by researcher Angela Lee as the single most important predictor of success.

While you might start these activities doing the majority of the proverbial heavy lifting, the eventual goal is reciprocity. Examining the “just right challenge” will help you consider what kind and degree of participation you are asking from your child and when to ask it. Eventually the goal is that your child asks for his or her mission of the morning, puts the teeth brushing song on, takes your breakfast order, empathizes with you about your presentation and approaches you with open arms, and be ready for his or her perfect goodbye hug, aware that you have love to give.

My wish for you this holiday season, is that you consciously expand your duty as a guide to include a little extra love in your morning routine, not only for your children, but to help you rediscover the excitement, connectedness and love you used to feel during the holiday season. Happy Holidays!

I have love to give. If you have any questions about RDI or want to involve me in your brainstorming, feel free to contact me at [email protected]

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