Special Needs Holiday Stress 

The holidays are coming!  Yay!  And that means it’s time to preemptively strike the Special Needs family holiday stress.  

After the past year, it’s about time for us to simply enjoy the holidays.  We need the joy that comes from tradition, visiting family, pumpkin pies, gift-giving, and turning our eyes back to what matters most. 

The Wonderful Can Be Stressful

However,  this season can also lead to extra stress for the exact same reasons that can make it wonderful.   

When you’re a mom raising kids with ADHD, Autism or other executive functioning issues, the holiday hustle and bustle take stress to a whole new level. 

We’re talkin special needs holiday stress.  

How Do I Stay Stress Free Through The Holidays?

You don’t. 

So while we special needs moms can’t avoid all of the holiday stressors, there are certainly ways that we can limit them. 

The holiday time is sacred for so many of us.  It’s supposed to be a time of respite and reflection.

This means that we each must set up guardrails around the holidays based on our specific family’s needs. 

Even if it disappoints Aunt Edna.  Who is this Aunt Edna that I always speak of, BTW?    

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How To Beat The Holiday Stress?  Ask A Tribe Of Special Needs Moms

And because we’re in this together, I’ve circled back to the mom experts from AHFAS private community for some help. 

Yes, Friend.  Today, we’re easing the pressure of the holidays with some stress management tips from some special needs moms.     

Why are the holidays so stressful?

So why are the holidays so stinkin stressful?  And why is it even more challenging when you’re a mom navigating a family full of ADHD brains, for example?   

Ok.  Doesn’t that last question speak for itself?  Seriously.

What Causes Stress During The Holidays?

Let’s talk about the chaos of the holidays.  For a special needs mom this means:


  • Loss of Routine,
  • Over-stimulation,
  • Big personalities who don’t know how (or care) to “read the room”,
  • Junk food,
  • Late nights,
  • Social misfires and traffic jams,
  • and on and on and on…
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Special Needs Moms Rallying Together To Beat Holiday Stress

Now we’ve stated the obvious. The holidays are coming and with them will be extra stress.  So now let’s take some proactive steps so we can savor the season.

Let’s start with Melanie, shall we?  I mean, she has a PhD in math!  And even better, she’s been a commited member of our mom tribe since the beginning.  She knows what it’s like to deal with the messy of motherhood.

Let’s see what she has to say.

Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #1- KISS & Tacos?  

KISS. Keep it simple sally!

Sometimes less is more.  Talk with your spouse and together decide what is really important.

I don’t stress about making a huge meal.  We actually have tacos on Thanksgiving and love it.

I encourage (as much as I possibly can) fewer gifts. In fact we don’t give any gifts to our children because we don’t want to add more on top of what family already gives.

More gifts = more mess = more frustration!!  

-Melanie, themathprofs.com

Erika Spence, adoptive mom, agrees with Melanie’s heartbeat for simplicity.

Keep it simple. One or two gifts, not a lot of events or parties. 

In our home, the rule is one gift and simple stocking stuffers.

Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #2: Do Your Own Thing Guilt-Free

I love what Erica had to say because it speaks to the freedom we all need to live in as moms.

We must prioritize our own family needs and let go of the guilt.

She told us this:

What I would say is think outside the box.  The holidays don’t have to be spent exactly like everyone else. 

We don’t all have to rearrange the house and put up trees and spend a fortune on things.  If you and your family absolutely love those things and it brings joy, do it.  Not your thing?  Then don’t!

No need to feel any kind of guilt either way.   My extended family thought I was a little nuts when I started thinking outside the box about holidays.

Our kiddos say they like it the way it is and wouldn’t go back.   Don’t be afraid to try out some new traditions that fit your family.  It could be the best thing ever.

 -Erica, Mom of two (one with dyslexia, anxiety & sensory processing issues)

Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #3: Bring Your Own Food (Even If People Think You’re Weird)

I have my child on a strict no gluten, no dairy diet.  So I just bring plenty of approved treats.  I bring enough to share of course.  And I act like it’s no big thing. 

-Maggie (1 child with moderate non-verbal ASD)  Maggie’s Fresh Kitchen

Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #4: Think like a Boy Scout

Be like a boy scout and be prepared! Think ahead and try to get in front of as many possible situations as you can. The more prepared you are, the more calm you are likely to remain when something inevitably goes wrong. 

-Amy, Mom of 4 (Cerebral Palsy, ADHD, Anxiety, SPD), Real Talk with Amy

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Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #5: Noise Cancelling Headphones

I learned the hard way to always ALWAYS double check the itineraries of town festivities.   As well as to always travel with noise cancelling headphones.

Apparently, Alicia learned this lesson the hard way twice.

Once was during a tree lighting ceremony in a new town we had just moved to.  The other time was when my boy was four and we took him to the beach. 

Both places, fireworks went off and we had ZERO clue it was part of the evening’s agenda. 

My oldest was a sensory avoider and a RUNNER.   We almost lost him both times as he ran into the crowd. What made it worse is that he was non-verbal!

He was only a few feet in front of us when, at the sound of fireworks, his fight-flight mode took over.  

Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #6: Prepare For Fight-Or-Flight 

When we finally found him, he was banging on business doors to desperate to escape the noise.  

I held him inside my winter coat and ran as far as I could to get away.  It didn’t help the sound was bouncing off all the downtown buildings.  He and I both cried through it, but we made it.

He is 15 now and verbal.  He can handle and enjoys fireworks!  

However, we now always travel with noise cancelling headphones and double check the itinerary!  

 – Alicia, Mom of 3 boys (2 biological and 1 adopted through the foster care system);  ASD, SPD, RAD, Microcephaly, Mood Disorder, Shaken Baby Syndrome)

Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #7: One Thing A Day, Predictability, & Pre-Teach

My holiday hacks is specific to my SPD kiddo.  It’s simple, but it works.

We only plan ONE THING A DAY. JUST ONE. 

However, we break our own rule on Christmas Eve but plan nothing the day before or after to cushion the overstimulation.   

My husband and I always explain the plan in advance.  We write out the overview of the week.  Then every morning we go through the schedule with our kids. 

Familiarity Breeds Calm

We pack familiar snacks. When we stay with family, we ask them to buy the same usual breakfast foods we eat at home. 

Practicing some family traditions at home is very important.   For example, we all sing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve.  So we pre-teach them a few songs so they feel prepared when we are with extended family. 

 -Stacy, (mom of 3- one with SPD) The Semi-Crunchy Mama

Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #8: Be Willing To Disappoint Adults

Tricia is on board with Stacy’s suggestion as well.  

We had to tell our family that we were only going to one event a day.  So that means:

  • my side on Christmas Eve.
  • his side Christmas Day
  • or vice versa.

And we only do one Thanksgiving and one Easter.   We tried for years to make everyone happy and go to 2 or 3 different events every holiday.  It was a nightmare and exhausting.   

Now, Christmas day is opening presents in our PJs, eating cinnamon rolls, and taking naps.  There are no expectations on Christmas day beyond that.

Tricia Asbra, MAT, special needs mom of 4, (one through adoption)

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Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #9: Leave Early

Know your family’s limits.  And don’t be afraid to leave early. 

Doing what’s best for your family is more important. 

The others aren’t the ones to be around dealing with the consequences, so their opinions don’t get to rule the day.

It’s hard getting made fun of or belittled by the adults in your life, but it’s still the better choice.

-Aryn The Libraryan, mom of 2, (one highly-sensitive), www.arynthelibraryan.com, Helping Bookish Christian Women one page at a time.  

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Kate agrees with Aryn.

Don’t be afraid to pick and choose what events or parties you attend.  Do what feels right for how you want to celebrate the holiday. 

And do what makes you most at peace with yourself and your family. 

Kate, Mom on one boy, 10 years old, adhd, highly sensitive & extremely smart

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How Do Special Needs Moms Avoid The Holiday Stress?

According to Kara, Hide.

She says she’s kidding, but she may be on to something. 

Here’s what this mom has to say about keeping the holiday stress to a minimum.

Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #10 : Build In Margin & Self-Regulation Strategies

We try to keep our routine as much as possible.  After we have an eventful day we build in down time.   I know my kids completely fall apart the day after a “big day”. 

We also make sure to walk through social skills and expectations ahead of time.  Not too far in advance.    

Discussing appropriate behavior and good choices to self manage is very important. For example,

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed you can…”,

Many adoptive families will understand Kara’s next comment.  She continues,

“And reminding them that there will be enough food, and more food later, to stave off panic.  It doesn’t always work, but we try.”

Sensory Regulation Tools In Their Toolbelt

One thing that Kara eluded to in her stress-free holiday tip, was the importance of equipping our kids with appropriate self-regulation tools.

In our home, this is a BIG one.  Instead of telling our kids what not to do, we best support them when we equip them.  One of the many sensory friendly self-regulation tools that we use in our home is our indoor trampoline.

These last tips are mine, Friend.

Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #11: Trampoline

No joke.  This trampoline has been a God-send for my 12 year old daughter.  She is both a vestibular and proprioceptive seeker, and uses the trampoline daily to help with self-regulation.

We bought this after moving into a neighborhood that didn’t allow outdoor trampolines.  Whah, whah… party-poopers.

In the end though, this was an awesome purchase.   I highly recommend the investment if you have a child who has an affinity for jumping, crashing, deep pressure, etc.

For more information about self-regulation, sensory strategies, and more, sign up for the Barely Surviving to Outright Thriving course.

holiday stress relief, special needs moms holiday hacks

Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #12: Shared Activities For Family

Every year I make sure to fill the table time with activities to engage the whole family.   I print out holiday printables like crazy.

  • Thanksgiving Word Searches,
  • Thankful-For Activities,
  • Christmas Make-a-Words,
  • And a variety of other activities

The main point is to engage the family in shared activities. And holiday printables are an easy way to bring family together.  We team up in pairs.  Grandparents, aunts, siblings, kids and friends.

This also helps conversation flow for our kids who struggle socially with conversation skills.. 

Follow me on Pinterest where I’ve pinned a ton of family holiday fun printables.  

Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #13: Invest In You 

I don’t know where you are in this season with your child.  You may be where I was a few years ago.

I was stressed, confused, and isolated navigating my son’s uncontrollable behaviors.  Everything I knew to do as a good Christian mom failed.  Nothing that worked with my older children worked with my son.  I felt like a failure and spent way too many holidays broken and miserable.

By God’s mercy, my family is in a radically different place.  We are thriving. Not perfect, but thriving.

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Barely Surviving To Outright Thriving

Here’s the thing.   I’ve learned more about God’s design of the brain (neuroscience) than I ever did in graduate school.  And, wow!  The Gospel so clearly demonstrates the importance of parenting our uniquely-wired kids differently.

That’s why I’ve spent more than a year creating a parenting course for moms who know there must be a better way. 

Barely Surviving to Outright Thriving is everything I wished I knew then.  My heart is to equip you to equip your child to thrive as exactly the person God intentionally created them to be.

Maybe this is the time to invest in you so that you can move the needle forward for your child.  Check it out today and find freedom and joy in your family again.

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Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #14: We Can Only Do Our Best

Whether your child struggles with sensory issues, anxiety, or simply needs the predictability of routine to self-regulate well, we can only do our best.  Don’t be afraid to say no to holiday commitments ever.  Make sure to give your family plenty of wiggle room as you schedule the months to come.

Always prioritize the best interest of your specific family and don’t worry about what anyone thinks.  Love YOUR family well in freedom.

RELATED POST: Growth Mindset For Moms Changes Everything

Special Needs Holiday Stress Tip #15: Trust God’s Decision

God chose YOU to parent your child on purpose.   He’s your audience of One.  Trust in His decision to choose you to parent your children.  Praying for you to be flooded with His peace and joy in even the chaos, Friend.

-Lindsay, (mom of three, 2 biological & 1 through adoption: ADHD, ASD, Anxiety & FASD), Founder, A Heart For All Students

What about you?  Do you have any hacks that may be useful to another momma?   Comment below.

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