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Long breaks from school can be hard on parents. As both a public school teacher, and a mother of two (one of whom has five behavioral/anxiety diagnosis), I feel like a self-proclaimed expert on the topic of how breaks from school can disrupt an already tumultuous sea of parenting navigation.

While teachers and students alike race to squeeze out of the hallways at the last bell for their long-awaited break from the daily grind of standardized test prep and sitting in rows of desks, these long leaves of absence can leave some parents paralyzed with the overwhelm of what to do with them for two weeks. Are there places we can visit to take up most of the day? How will she adjust to a new schedule? Should I let them stay up late, or sleep in, or will that just make things more chaotic?

This holly jolly time can feel more like slow suffocation for some. So how can we man the life rafts and float through this season without feeling like we are drowning?

Here are eight foolproof ways to ease the tension of the holiday season when you are parenting children with behavior issues.

1. Man Your Battle Stations 
When navigating the seas of parenting a child with special needs, we become accustomed to awkward stares and unsolicited advice. To cut some of this off at the pass, it is best to not run a CIA operation. Allow your friends and family to celebrate the strengths of your super awesome kiddo by letting them know the victories you are proud of. Pouring on praise never gets old for children who struggle behaviorally. To be acknowledged for the good is uncommon for them, so when Grandma Nancy who they haven’t seen since last year, mentions the goal they scored in soccer this season, they will glow with pride.

It is also important to be upfront with their struggles. Don’t code their diagnosis. Own it. If we act afraid or embarrassed, it paints a picture for our children of a lack of acceptance. Explain to Aunt Margaret that while ADHD wasn’t something readily diagnosed in the 1940s, it does, in fact, exist and it is a very real struggle for your daughter. Focus on the good, and remember knowledge is powerful. If they don’t know, you are allowing them to assume; we both know what that does!

2. Ready Your Tribe
I talk often about having “my tribe” in order. For some, that may be several family members, friends, or church members. For my husband and me, it is a few close friends who also raise children like our son. It isn’t that others are not supportive or helpful, but when my son just threw shoes at our window in an attempt to bust out the glass because I asked him to tie them so we could leave, I am not looking for an answer or a pity party or a Bible verse. Those things are all lovely in their own time, but I need someone who is in the middle of picking up broken pieces of the clock her daughter just threw across the room. I need someone who won’t judge me but who will pour a Mason jar of wine from the box she bought at Target and tell me she understands and actually mean it.

Your tribe gets you. They have walked in your slippers and they, too, have throw up on their four-day-old yoga pants. Sometimes that text at midnight is the thing you need to save your sanity so you don’t completely lose it before grandma’s Christmas brunch tomorrow.

3. Prepare a War Strategy
This is crucial. If you have spent any time at all parenting children of any kind, you know going in blind is a recipe for disaster. This doesn’t mean you need “scheduled funtivities” as my husband affectionately calls them. It does mean that you need to have a plan.

Scour Pinterest, do a Facebook poll, or pull from old workbooks from the library, but figure out a strategic approach to the days your kids will be off. Our son goes through phases when he is almost fixated on one interest. So, for him, it works best to plan activities or little day trips to places that surround that subject. He was recently into airplanes so we spent an entire week visiting the Air Force Museum, a skydiving business, and even the local airport. He watched movies about planes and helicopters and we did crafts to teach him about carrying cargo and beginning concepts of velocity and wind variation. Bonus: we “roadschool” (because we live tiny) so this all counted as school hours.

It doesn’t all need to be Pinterest perfect. I made no airplane-themed snacks. I printed off not one worksheet. But I allowed him to guide the play. It was pretty amazing!

4. Inflate the Life Rafts
Always have an escape plan. Whether one parent needs a break from the chaos or your child himself needs a quiet place to take a breath, have a route planned. For us, it might be renting a movie, taking a bike ride, or going to the skate park. Nothing fancy here.

Be sure you have a backup plan for yourself, too. I cannot speak on this enough. Parents need to take care of themselves if we are meant to have anything left to give to our kiddos. If your children are home for two weeks from school, be sure at least once a week, each parent (or caregiver) has a scheduled “time-off”. Go shopping, run at the park, get your nails done, take a nap, go have a beer or a coffee. Whatever your poison, pick it and take time to breathe. Your entire family will thank you for it!

5. Stock the Ship
A mom who enters the grocery store with a cart full of children will, undoubtedly, leave with a migraine. Don’t do this to yourself. Already have snacks and juice boxes stocked. If you couldn’t get to it, Click List that mess! It is worth the $5 service fee to your favorite local grocery store to pay a teenager to do the shopping for you so all you have to do is open the back of the van. Just whatever you do, feed the hungry bears. No child is a happy child on an empty stomach (and neither am I).

Girl, when I say I am always prepared, Boy Scouts can back it up! I have a proverbial mini bar of granola bars, cheddar bunnies, fruit snacks, and juice boxes at the ready in the van, in the diaper bag, and sometimes in my purse. This mama don’t play! When all else fails, throw some chocolate at them. Don’t be ashamed, honey. We’ve all been there.

6. Dress For the Part
One of my favorite memories as a child was playing dress up (even if that meant forcing my little brother to wear my mom’s dresses and makeup against his will). Our kids thrive on this kind of free play and they get a little something extra when we are willing to be silly with them.

We are a big dance party household, so crank up the tunes, wear funny hats, and get down together! The kids will get out some energy, you can log steps for cardio, and they will be ready for naps by lunchtime. You can thank me later.

7. Stay the Course
Discouragement is the number one killer of all best laid parenting plans. No one smart said that, but I fully believe it. When I feel like I have something really great in store (whether for my own kids or in my classroom) and it just falls flat or it finishes quicker than I had prepared, I cannot let that stop me. Stay the course.

It is best to be flexible and to always have a backup plan. Don’t rely on good weather or good attitudes because neither are predictable. Have plenty of options and be ready to change plans if necessary. This is coming from a complete Type A control freak, but I have had to learn to loosen up. Everyone has more fun this way.

8. Don’t Always Play Captain
I do love to be in charge. However, it is pretty incredible what can come out of a situation when I allow others to take the reigns . . . even (gasp) my kids! Let your kiddos plan your meal, make dinner, or choose the movie. Allow them to pick the game you play or decide when you leave for the store. Trust me, everything will still be there when you are done.

I have had to learn from that evil snow witch, Elsa, but letting things go has never been so freeing. This is how I discovered my husband was physically capable of preparing a meal. It wasn’t that he wasn’t willing. I had just never let him try!

Ladies, you are killing it. Our kids are hard. Behavior concerns muddy the waters, but we’ve got this. We are strong and capable (and when we aren’t, that’s why we have our tribe). Should you not have one, email me. I am always looking to expand my teepee!

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

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Brynn Burger

Mental health advocate, extreme parent, lover of all things outdoors, and sometimes a shell of my former self. Parenting a child with multiple behavior disabilities has become both my prison and my passion. I write so I can breathe. I believe that God called me to share, with violent vulnerability and fluent sarcasm, our testimony to throw a lifeline to other mamas who feel desperate to know they aren't alone. I laugh with my mouth wide open, drink more cream than coffee, and know in my spirit that queso is from the Lord himself. Welcome!

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