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Parents of Special-Needs Kids Brace for Holidays: Christmas Season Can Aggravate a Child with a Behavior Disorder

Thanksgiving and Christmas are times for family fun and joyful celebrations. However, parents of special-needs children with mental impairments will need to brace for angry outbursts and explosive behavior that result from changes in daily routines and too much stimulation. Too often, friends, neighbors and even extended family members don’t understand the stress and challenges faced by special-needs parents and families.

Children With Violent or Disruptive Behavior Due to Mental Disorders

Children with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) exhibit repetitive temper tantrums, episodes of arguing, and disruptive behavior. The child or teen can become hostile, especially toward parents or people in authority.

A child diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder (IED) displays violent anger outbursts that make the child a danger to himself as well as others. Changes to a daily routine, good or bad, can trigger an outburst that is way out of proportion to the cause. But even a small and seemingly insignificant incident can result in a violent combative reaction.

Children with multiple disabilities, including autism, attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) can be easily agitated or over stimulated. Parents of children with behavior disabilities, anxiety disorders, and even some learning disabilities often go to great lengths to keep the peace during the holiday season.

Celebrating the Holidays With a Child Diagnosed With a Behavior Disorder

A child with a behavior disorder many not respond well to parades, decorating the home, and holiday events. Holiday activities, school parties, family members arriving from out-of-town, and Christmas vacation can bring out the worst in a child with a mental behavior condition. Parents learn to cope, but the situation can be frustrating for other immediate family members.

Parents of children with behavior problems may keep Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations as low-key as possible. Instead of opening presents on Christmas morning, parents may find that opening gifts over a few days works better. The parents may turn down an invitation to a holiday party because they cannot risk leaving an aggressive child alone with a sitter. A couple may refuse to host out-of-town family members in the home because of the danger involved with a child diagnosed with IED.

What Can Friends and Relatives Do for Parents of Children With Behavior Disorders?

The holidays are stressful for many people, but even more so for special-needs parents trying to manage a child who has a behavior disorder or mental disability. Just getting through the day without an explosive argument can be a major victory. What’s more, children and teens with IED often cause injury and destroy property when they have an episode. Friends and relatives can help. Here’s how:

  • Understand that the caregiver parents are doing everything possible to keep the home running smoothly during the holidays. Putting a relative up for the weekend might be a huge inconvenience.
  • Be aware that holiday excitement, parades, parties, and noisy fun stress some children diagnosed with behavior disorders to the point of a violent reaction. Don’t become offended if the parents choose not to participate or volunteer to help with a school holiday play or church performance.
  • Don’t isolate special-needs parents from holiday fun; find the best way to include them. Parents may not be able to attend a neighbor’s party, but getting an invitation can mean a lot.
  • Respect a couple’s decision to celebrate in the best way possible and don’t criticize. If it takes the family 3 or 4 days to open presents, then don’t claim how offbeat or odd it sounds.

Children that have behavior conditions need structure and routine. When holidays and events disrupt the usual schedule, the child can become anxious, depressed, and agitated. Minor incidents can turn into violent and explosive displays of anger, especially for children and teens diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder. Friends and relatives can make the holidays easier for special-needs parents by understanding the child’s behavior condition and doing whatever is necessary to support the parents.