Turkey, Pumpkin Pie & Meltdowns: How to get through turkey day with visual schedules, routine, and a little bit of grace.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it is important to take a little time to prep and plan not only the food and company you might be seeing this holiday, but also your’s and your kid’s sanity. The main thing I love about Thanksgiving is the FOOD. I love, love, love to eat and especially on this day. I get to eat food that I sometimes don’t see or smell all year-long. But I absolutely hate the organization of it all. The buying of the food, the prepping, the cooking, not to mention the cleanup. Gives me anxiety just thinking about it. Not joking. I have been known to throw hissy fits in the past a time or two just trying to get through this day. Something about the lack of structure, the chaos of baking, and the invasion of people in my house, just sends me over the edge. Thankfully, my wonderful father has hosted and organized Thanksgiving at his house for several years now, which literally has saved me from multiple meltdowns.

But, what about the kids? And especially the kids with disabilities? Holidays can be stressful and overwhelming for our kids with disabilities. An atypical schedule, new foods, and a crowded home can cause a meltdown (or a dozen!) quicker than you can inhale your pumpkin pie. Here are a few ideas for helping our babies who need those most supports.

  1. Prep your child! Just like you are going to prep that food, prep your kid! Sit down with your child and explain the day’s schedule as well as what will be happening and what’s expected of them. Use visual supports such as a visual schedule of the day, social stories about what behaviors are expected and perhaps behavior maps about expected and unexpected behavior and their consequences such as the one shown. 
  2. Prep your family! Yup, this has to happen. As uncomfortable as it may be (or hopefully not), you have got to prepare your family, especially those who may not have a close relationship with your child or who may not know them well. Let them know that you may unexpectedly disappear if your child needs to be taken to another room to calm down. Share that you may have to cook food that is only for your child due to their dietary needs or restrictions. Let them know that if your kiddo starts exhibiting any sort of behavior that seems “out of the norm”, you’ve got it under control.
  3. Give your child a visual schedule (or written one if that is more appropriate) of what the day will look like and TRY to stick to it as best as possible. Also, try to stick to your normal daily routine. If you normally eat at 5 pm, then schedule Thanksgiving dinner at 5 pm. If your child normally takes a bath at 8, then give them a bath at 8. Routine is key when trying to avoid breakdowns, meltdowns, or epic explosions.
  4. Provide an escape! If things start to become too much for your child to process, allow them to escape the environment or situation be giving them a room to go to, a calming corner or an area in which they can participate in sensory input. By providing such a space, you give the child an appropriate place to go to manage and control their emotions as well as their body. Make sure to include in your space things that will provide different sensory experiences such as different textures, smells, sounds and sights. Things to consider in your space would be bean bags, different colored pillows, a weighted blanket, books to read, calming smells such as lavender and soft lighting. Here are some fun examples:


Hope these tips help you get through Turkey day. Enjoy the food, enjoy your kids, and enjoy the moment. 🙂

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