The key to enjoying a long holiday weekend as a foster and/or special needs family is planning. Labor Day is approaching, and you want to make the most of it with your family. Planning gives you and your kids a chance to enjoy the holiday.
Accommodating kids special needs
Start by addressing any unique needs specific to your kids. Their needs can run the gamut from sensory needs, trauma-based needs, and/or behavioral needs. The first thing to do is to discuss the plans with the kids ahead of time. I usually remind them of the daily plans the night before and repeat them in the morning. Repetition helps them adjust to the changes in schedule. The next step is to tackle sensory differences. We have sensory kits at home for each kid. They include sensory survival tools specific to each one. You can design your bag, or buy them already assembled. For example, my son’s kit includes noise-canceling earphones, sunglasses, weighted vest, and Theraputty. The backpacks go with us in the car. For more info on sensory differences check out Yourkidstable.com. It is an excellent place to start. Transitions can also be difficult with foster/special needs families, so like other issues, it is good to have a plan worked out ahead of time. We have a step by step routine chart that guides them through what needs to get done, i.e., to get ready to leave. They can remove each completed step from the list. Using a timer also helps. We have a ten-minute sand timer. Once the upper chamber is empty, we go out the door, start getting for bed, or whatever transition we are managing.
Plan for Weather
Fortunately, Labor Day is a summer holiday which involves being outdoors and active. My kids find this much more comfortable than formal sit down dinners. However some factors may be problematic, my son has an aversion to bright light, i.e., Sunlight. We supply him with dark sunglasses, and I keep a spare pair with me in case he loses them. Both our kids seek proprioception, which is the sense of location and movement of the body. They receive input through physical exercise or heavy work. This year we are going to celebrate at home. So I scheduled hikes, swimming (if weather permits), visits to the local playground, beach walks, and riding bikes. The goal is to wear them out blissfully.
Plan for Setting
Getting together with a lot of friends and family may be difficult for a newer member of the family. Our FD2, who is usually boisterous and fills a room, turns into a quiet clinging vine until she gets comfortable. I account for that by mentioning it to our hosts beforehand and giving her the time and space she needs to acclimate. My S4, on the other hand, turns into a dizzying ball of energy that quickly becomes over-wound. For him, we concentrate on giving a lot of heavy work leading up to the event. We dress him in a tight-fitting shirt or Spio. The extra pressure helps him stay regulated. We also take an additional walk during if necessary.
Schedule rest or downtime
Although proprioception seeking kids are very active, I try to incorporate some sensory activity, craft, or quiet play into their day. It helps slow them down a bit and allows them to focus. It is the closest I get them to a nap. I also plan craft projects they will both enjoy. Anything involving paint is a big hit. If the day is warm enough, I can set up a water table activity. However, being a couple of weeks out, without any reliable means to predict the weather, it is good to have a backup plan. Playdoh is an excellent sensory back up. It is always popular with my kids, so I make sure to keep some on hand. I also save errands for mid-afternoon. Once we hit the road, they are asleep in the backseat. It only works if there are two of you; otherwise, no errands will get done. If I am alone, I always have a book waiting for me on my iPhone.
Prepare for a meltdown
There is bound to be an unexpected meltdown at some point. No matter how well I plan, the kids are 2 and 4. They are still learning what emotions are, let alone how to control them. We have a Calm Down corner at our home. It contains toys, activities, books, and picture cards of calm down methods. It is a safe place for them to practice the tools we have taught them, and not a time-out space. If we are going out, however, I let the kids each pick one small item from the Calm Down kit to take with us. I also have a few things in the car. If they have a meltdown, we usually bring them to the car, name their emotion, acknowledge it, and sit with them.
Finally, Add Fun and Enjoy!
The final piece of the puzzle is fun! I want to create fun and happy memories with my kids. Once their needs are met, they can open up and enjoy. Friday is always Family Movie Night. I pick a new kids movie they haven’t seen before, and we watch it as a family. My son loves camping, so we plan to camp outside on our deck one night. It isn’t an actual camping trip, but he will be satisfied. I found some cute craft ideas for them, and I will even throw in a new book teaching them about Labor Day.
Although it takes a bit more planning and effort and usually does not go as planned, I love this time with my kids. If we have fun, they stay safe, and the house is still standing, it will have been a good weekend.
For all the special needs and foster mommas out there, have fun, laugh a lot, stay agile, and have a fantastic Labor Day!