Every “Body” Can Play: Gathering and Gratitude

By Silvia Steele

November is the start to a busy season of celebrations and gatherings for many. Holidays with extended family or participating in community events can be joyful as well as stressful. Planning and being flexible can go a long way to help ease the stress, for everyone! Families with children with special needs may find it even more challenging if their children struggle with changes in routine, sensory issues or becoming overstimulated in large groups.

As much as possible stick to your child’s regular routine. Talk about changes that will be happening the day of a family or community gathering. Write out a schedule or make a visual schedule. Picture schedules can serve two roles, to help children understand a change in routine, as well as provide visual cues to alert them to what comes next. For younger children, role playing or rehearsing ahead of time helps make the day more predictable and may prevent meltdowns.

Incorporate toys or objects that they love. Familiar objects can help children ease into a transition that is new or that they may not be comfortable with. Your child’s favorite activity or game can be a great way to encourage them to initiate interactions or conversations with others. Children tend to feel more confident when they can talk to others about things that they love most, such as hobbies or their favorite topics. Always bring along any items that help with sensory issues such as headphones, fidgets, or a special blanket. Make sure you plan for a quiet space to go, if your child needs a break or is overstimulated in a larger group.

Set realistic expectations, especially with family, and be flexible! Your child does not have to participate in every activity or tradition if they are not comfortable. Make gratitude the focus for your family on these special days. Talk about what you are thankful for! Encourage and model this for your children. Gratitude can be taught to children at any age and throughout the year.

Here are some helpful tips to teach and practice gratitude at any age!

  • Nightly expressions of what they were grateful for during the day
  • Gratitude over the food they receive
  • Share appreciation for others – compliments
  • Donations of money, gifts, outgrown clothes, and time (volunteering) to those in need – giving helps foster gratitude in what we have
  • Gratitude walks – appreciating the world around us
  • Creating a gratitude jar – writing down anything that happens or comes to mind
  • Showing gratitude through gift-giving to others
  • Looking for the positive in every situation – teaching appreciation
  • Writing thank you cards – not just for presents – also for actions
  • Saying please and thank you – appreciating everyone through good manners