Holidays can be a stressful and challenging time for everyone, but especially for the family of a child with social, emotional, or behavioral challenges. Video Stories can be a powerful way to help the unfamiliar become comfortable and the specific holiday behaviors and rituals become routine. You can use the Video Story to be proactive and prepare for the new situation, create Video Stories in the actual moment to focus on and promote the positive behavior, and review the Video Stories afterwards to develop language, strengthen relationships, and help the next year’s holidays run more smoothly because the child knows what is expected and has a visual memory of themselves enjoying the activity and exceeding the expectations.
First, let’s discuss how to use Video Stories to make the unfamiliar less frightening. Holidays are full of activities, environments, and people that aren’t a normal part of our normal routine. Many times we, as parents, are kind of flustered as we rush to prepare for the activity and entertain high hopes or hidden anxieties of how the experience will play out. We drag our child into this unfamiliar territory without dedicating much time to their own preparation and then respond to their misbehavior with unwarranted intensity. Our children need and deserve as much time as it takes for them to understand and actively participate in the holiday. Video Stories are a fun way to help the child process and remember the different parts of the holiday. Video Stories also help us take some quality time before an event to settle in, study the skills necessary to succeed, and encourage our child in their own ability to enjoy the experience.
You can create Video Stories to familiarize all the unfamiliar details your child will encounter. For example, for Halloween, you can pretend or “play” through the whole experience several days before, taking the time to enjoy picking the costume and dressing up, rehearsing going to a neighbor’s house (prearranged ahead of time), knocking on the door, saying the magic words, and getting a treat. Don’t forget the other details necessary for success – saying thank you even if you don’t like that kind of candy, leaving the house without playing first, limiting the sugar intake, etc.. You can film all this and highlight each step and the language they need to know. For the fourth of July, you can prepare for the picnic by showing them the expected behaviors of staying close to the picnic blanket, the boundaries of the play area, the concept of fireworks (perhaps with an online video explanation like those available on www.brainpop.com). The more they understand about fireworks, the less frightening they will be.
For the special family dinner, be sure to prepare your child ahead of time for the special expectations that are different from the normal way of doing dinner. Many times, we just give a verbal warning, such as tonight you’ll need to sit still, listen to grandpa, and use your manners, but often our children are not skilled at processing verbal information and since we are always telling them what to do, they are desensitized to the importance of our verbal directions anyway. In order for them to really internalize what the expectations are for this special dinner, we can spend some time preparing them for it with a Video Story of them greeting the “guests,” sitting still for a specified amount of time or until a specified amount of food is eaten, asking a conversational question like “How’s your dog?,” demonstrating how to actively listen, showing off their grown-up manners. When they see themselves successfully demonstrating how to be cool at this special event, they will be much more likely to remember and reenact their new skills in the excitement of the moment.
A religious service or ceremony like a wedding or baptism, for which the children are expected to be quiet, can be a source of anxiety, even dread, for the parent. There are several ways we can be proactive about it. Finding ways to help the child feel personally involved in the success of the ceremony, like passing out bulletins, getting the room ready, and greeting people may help them feel more responsible. A Video Story can explain the background information they need to understand, the “why” behind the rituals and the reason for being silent. We can explain these things more effectively through the visual language of a Video Story. Also, it’s important to think carefully ahead of time and practice the quiet activities that they can do during the service, giving them strategies to truly be successful in the situation, including reading or watching their Video Story, drawing, reading, listening to calming music on headphones, playing specified games on a mobile device. A short video clip of them sitting quietly in that setting and showing each of their quiet options will go a long way in helping them get to that quiet place in the service. The story would be complete with a picture or video of the tremendously pleased parent, bride, grandma or minister at the end. You can print out a photo version of the story for them to flip through or have it on a mobile device so can watch it again and again during the ceremony, either on silent or with headphones.
For Christmas, there are many different ways that Video Stories can help the holiday season become more enjoyable for your whole family. For example, if you choose to do a Santa visit, you can create a Video Story before the experience with stock photos from the internet and tips for waiting in line, ideas for coping with the noise of the crowd, a prepared letter of their wish for Santa, options for standing next to Santa, and possibly the treat afterwards at the food court. Once you are there, you can have your video camera ready documenting the successful moments in line, with Santa, and afterwards. And after the experience you can show off those precious moments to their other loved ones, each time reinforcing how cool and capable your child is and instilling a sense of pride that they can do something new so well. If there were moments when the crowd was too much, or the elf was too weird, just don’t include those video clips in the story. Those memories will fade and the memories captured in the Video Story will become stronger. Of course, these examples are just to get to you thinking about how to prepare for the experiences that are important to you. I’m not promoting the Santa visit, but want to encourage you that if there is a holiday experience that is important and exciting to you, don’t give up on it if it seems too difficult for your child. Try to think creatively about how to prepare your child for each part so that it can eventually be something you enjoy together.