by Charlotte E. Thompson, M.D., author of Grandparenting a Child with Special Needs

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, parents often turn to the grandparents for help with their children. Then if grandparents have part- or full-time care of their grandchildren, the holidays can make the days extra busy, so fatigue becomes a real problem. Grandparents with medical problems have to be particularly careful that they don’t get overwhelmed.

Many parents and grandparents try to do lots of holiday shopping, have several holiday parities to attend and also might want to have a holiday party of their own. How do you accomplish all of this? I think the answer is that no one can do it all and you have to make conscious decisions about what is absolutely necessary and what you can omit.

I am a great list maker and by listing things in the order of importance a list can be very helpful. Of course if you are the caretaker, your very first priority should be the safety of your grandchildren. Remember that some holiday decorations are not safe. I would be particularly careful about candles and poisonous plants. Some Christmas holly, mistletoe, and other plants are poisonous. (The Internet or a gardening shop should be able to tell you which plants should not be around small children.) Breakable, special ornaments should be put away if there are small children or if a child with special needs gets out of hand.

A child with autism may find the holidays particularly difficult and meltdowns may be more frequent, as his or her routine is upset. You may need to find an extra pair of hands to help, as a near-by teenager or a college student home on vacation. If you are having a party in your home, you want to be sure someone is keeping their eyes on little children. They can quickly get into trouble. The other thing to be careful about is buying toys that are breakable or dangerous. Be sure that there are no sharp edges on the toys and no little pieces which can be pulled off. Little children will swallow anything. Books are my favorite gifts to give grandchildren of all ages.

One of the special things about holidays my children and grandchildren have always loved are traditions which are repeated each year. Perhaps your grandchildren like going to a special place, seeing the Nutcracker Ballet, making Christmas cookies or other holiday treats. When my son was divorced and became the primary parent, I started putting together a calendar with pictures of the children and their father appropriate for each month. These calendars can be made quite inexpensively and a copy shop should be able to do one for you.

Another idea is to have a party for your friends combined with a party for their grandchildren. When my children were growing up and I gave a holiday party, I would also invite my friends’ children and my two children loved being host and hostess. We had a small house but it was warm and big enough to set up games, fun food, and refreshments in the garden. You could have your grandchildren make party invitations to send ahead of time to their friends and also decorate paper napkins, a paper table cloth, and make party favors. Your grandchildren could probably come up with some other very creative ideas. The party could also have a theme. If you life in an apartment complex with a party room, it could be reserved ahead of time and the two parties could be held in different parts of the room.

There are many other traditions you can establish and these will be long remembered by your grandchildren.

Happy Holidays!

Read Charlotte’s blog post for Grandparents’ Day 2010.

Charlotte E.Thompson M.D. is a pediatrician and specialist in children’s muscle diseases. She founded and directed the Center for Handicapped Children in San Fransisco for 23 years and has worked as a consultant for six pediatric neuromuscular programs. She is a mother of two and a grandmother and lives in California.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

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