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The Hood Magazine

Use Priming to Prepare Children for the Holidays

Nov 01, 2021 ● By Alyssa Parros, M.S., BCBA, LBA, Behavior Care Specialists

By: Alyssa Parros, M.S., BCBA, LBA, Behavior Care Specialists 

 What is priming? And no, it is not what you do before you paint, but the concept is similar! 

In applied behavior analysis (ABA), priming prepares children for a situation or task by providing the relevant information beforehand. Like priming before painting, you prepare the surface (your child) for the bigger change. Priming is not a rigid strategy, and parents can do it in various ways, such as verbally, through social stories, videos, visual schedules, or a combination of these. With the holidays approaching, priming can be an essential tool in your parenting toolbox to prepare your child to handle the unexpected routines that come along with celebrating. 

Children, especially those with autism, can often struggle with changes in routine and unfamiliar situations, thus making holidays a challenge since they only occur once per year. Think about how many changes are involved when it comes to holiday events: 

  • Travel may happen 

  • Unfamiliar people and places 

  • New foods to try 

  • Occur once per year 

  • Different activities to participate in 

  • Break from school 

  • People in their home 

  • Different rules and expectations 

That is a lot! Therefore, it is crucial to take the time to prepare for these significant changes in routine. In doing so, it will allow for a less stressful time for everyone. 

Let's take Thanksgiving, for example. There can be many new expectations and experiences, like unfamiliar holiday dishes, many family members around, and maybe even the expectation to sit at the table for a particular duration of time. To help your child prepare, look at how you plan on celebrating, identify the parts that your child may struggle with the most, and find ways to practice. 

If sitting at the table and participating in the Thanksgiving meal, try setting up your dinner table a few times before Thanksgiving comes. This could also be an opportunity to introduce your child to some of the unfamiliar Thanksgiving foods and practice the table skills during a regular meal. You can make a family-style dinner and practice passing dishes and staying at the table for the meal. To help encourage your child, you will want to provide praise and positive feedback for engaging in those expected behaviors! When Thanksgiving comes, you can continue to use priming to discuss expectations with your child, prepare them for the people they will see, and reference them back to your practice dinner. 

Holidays are a wonderful time of the year, but they can also be stressful for kids when they are not prepared. This year, take the extra time to find ways beforehand to prepare your child for these events so that they can be successful and enjoy!