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Fall Behind

When Changes in Time, Light, and Weather Bring Bad Behavior


"Spring forward, fall behind" goes the saying we use to remind us to set clocks back in the autumn, but it may also remind you of the way your child's behavior seems to regress in the stretch between Halloween and Christmas. If your child is experiencing an increase in irritability and a decrease in attention and stress tolerance, consider these fall-related factors.

The combination of exposure to fellow drippy-nosed schoolchildren and temperature swings that make it hard to know how to dress your child can make cold season hit your family hard. Packed sinuses and infected ears are sometimes not immediately obvious, especially in kids with a high pain tolerance, but can have a distracting effect on behavior nonetheless. Side effects from over-the-counter cold and cough medicine can sometimes make behavior worse instead of better.

Those same wild swings in weather have a way of messing up the routines that our kids count on. When wished-for activities get rained out and outdoor play moves indoors, youngsters who don't shift gears that easily can come a little unglued. Changes in climate can bring changes of air pressure that can have a kid feeling out of sorts for no good reason, too. Try to keep routines as consistent as possible, and have a stash of fun rainy-day activities at hand.

Changing from one set of clothes to another can be a challenge to kids with tactile sensitivity -- getting used to different fabrics and styles, adjusting to additional layers, dealing with stiff new togs or mourning the loss of outgrown outfits. Make sure to keep your child's sensory-related clothing preferences in mind when buying new stuff for the new season, and do whatever customizing is needed, such as cutting out tags, before your child has to wear them.

The first month or so of school may be mostly review, but somewhere around mid-October to early November, things settle down to serious work. As that grace period ends, the stress dial on your child gets turned up to 11. Harder work, greater expectations, less tolerance for classroom fidgeting and chitchat, more homework -- all can cause your child's behavior to veer out of the safety zone. Teachers may not be so sympathetic, but you should try to be.

Time Change
First your child has to adjust to it being darker in the morning, then, when the clocks change, darker in the afternoon. That's a routine changer again, and also something that can mess up biorhythms and sleeping patterns. Fatigue from lost sleep can have a terrible effect on behavior. A light therapy box may be a way to help your child adjust to the differences in light and time.

Anticipation of Christmas bounty makes lots of kids loopy. But the nonsense that goes on in schools on the run-up to the holidays is probably harder for kids with special needs than most. Holiday pageants in particular disrupt class time with practices, require uncomfortable costumes, and carry expectations of standing still on stage and sitting through a long assembly. School parties can also be a problem, particularly if your child is on a restricted diet. The most wonderful time of the year? Not so much.

The same, for parents
Kids aren't the only ones to react to these fall and winter stressors. Parents do, too. If you're fighting a cold, feeling the changes in weather, going crazy with closet changes, agonizing over the way your winter clothes fit, getting caught up in holiday plans, worrying about what to do with your child over winter break, all of these things will up your stress level and lower your levels of patience, understanding, and time to spend with kids. Your child is likely to react to that very, very badly. Stop and take a look at whether your stress may be contagious.

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