Is gift-giving stressful at your house? Do you try to find things that your child would like, hoping to surprise her, but then learn that it was not what she had in mind at all? Gift giving for children who are inflexible in their thinking can be a disappointing exercise in miscommunication. It takes some careful communication ahead of time to have a happy gift-receiving experience. If you want to surprise you child with a gift, you probably should let go of that. Children on the spectrum simply don’t do well with surprise. (I apologize to those who celebrate Hanukkah that I thought of this too late for you.)

Here are some ideas about how to preserve some fun while decreasing the likelihood of a super meltdown upon unwrapping the gift.

1. Ask your child to make a list.

2. Go over the list with her and talk about what is realistic. Perhaps some of the gifts are out of your price range. Even if your child believes in Santa, you could say that Santa won’t be able to pay for that.

3. Be realistic about how many gifts Santa (or you) will provide. I once worked with a boy who made a very comprehensive (pages long) list for Santa and was very angry when he didn’t receive everything. His parents thought that was understood. The message is, “Leave as little as possible to chance.”

4. You might need to explain that Santa knows that you won’t allow certain video games in the house.

5. Perhaps you have thought of something that isn’t on the list, but you are pretty sure that your child would like. Check it out. You might say, “Some kids would like the _____. Do you think that’s a good gift?” Perhaps your child will see through this, perhaps not. Even if she does, you can have the conversation, and likely you’ll find out if you just had a bad idea.

The holidays can trigger a major case of the “gimmes,” an unattractive focus in your child on what she or he wants. The best way I know to help with that is to engage your child in giving. Perhaps you can give your child some money (or he has some money of his own), and you can take him shopping for other family members. Perhaps you are a crafty family and you can engage your child in making something for family members. Thinking about what someone else would like to receive is a good exercise in perspective taking.

Lastly, there are other activities around most holidays that children can participate in. One big one is helping with cooking and baking. Is there a simple part of the holiday meal that your child can make? This is a great way to give your child a role that others can honestly appreciate.

I hope that these suggestions can help you and your child enjoy the holidays a little more.

Author's Bio: 

Parent Coach and Licensed Psychologist, Carolyn Stone, Ed.D. ( educates parents of children with learning disabilities, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome and anxiety about their children’s needs using humor and evidence-based practices. Parents learn new strategies through role play and homework. She teaches children to manage their anxiety and attention and to understand their learning styles. You can learn about Dr. Stone’s work from her blog at