5 Tips for Hosting a Child with Special Needs This Holiday Season

By Diane M. McCullom

For most people, the holidays are a joyful time spent with family and friends, though they can be quite stressful and demanding with party-attending, gift-buying and schedule-juggling. Families with children who have special needs face these same demands and more—wondering how their children will feel at social gatherings is just one of the many questions asked. If you have the privilege of hosting a child with special needs this holiday season, chances are you are wondering about some ways that you can help ease the process for these families and for yourself. We have a few ideas:

Check in with parents – Before your holiday gathering, check in with the child’s parents for a list of do’s and don’ts, traditions, food sensitivities and recommendations. This step can go quite the distance in ensuring that the child feels comfortable and at home in a new environment.

Be prepared – Organize your home in a way that provides few distractions: remove clutter, keep overstimulating items out of the central focus points of your home, have backup food that the child likes, and have fun, skill-appropriate activities and games available for the child in those moments when uneasiness or restlessness sets in.

Be flexible – You might have to throw all of that preparation out the window on a whim. And guess what? It’s OK! Be flexible enough to change your plans to meet the needs of your guests.

Teach your family – Use your experience hosting a special needs child as a teaching time for your own children or relatives to learn about awareness, difference, respect and acceptance.

Relax and have fun – A kid with special needs wants to be independent too, so let them attempt things on their own instead of immediately jumping in to help. Things might get spilled or kids might jump on your couch. As long as a safe and fun environment is maintained, don’t sweat the small stuff!

With a little preparation and an accommodating mindset for those special kids in your life, the holidays are sure to be a success for everyone this year!

Diane M. McCullom is the senior vice president of clinical operations at Dallas-based Epic Health Services, a leading provider of pediatric skilled nursing, therapy, developmental, enteral and respiratory services, as well as adult home health services, with operations in 21 states.

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Ritzy Resale Shop and Lunch Veranda

My children closely inspect the outside of the Ritzy Resale Shop.

My children closely inspect the outside of the Ritzy Resale Shop.

I love when my children surprise me for the better.  I also enjoy finding hidden, local gems.  It was not in my original plan to write a story this week on the Ritzy Resale Shop and Lunch Veranda in Brownsville, but I am so thankful I had the privilege of visiting.

It had been years since I had last made its acquaintance, when my mother-in-law treated me to a lovely birthday brunch.  Curious to know if it was still there, I decided to treat my children to a small lunch.

This was the dining room my son chose.  He and his sister enjoyed looking around at the different items and parts of the shop.

This was the dining room my son chose. He and his sister enjoyed looking around at the different items and parts of the shop.

As soon as I walked in, my initial thought was, “What was I thinking?”  An antique store, consignment shop and lunch veranda in one, it holds many of my favorite things.  With my four-year old on one side of me, and my 22-month old on the other, I glanced around at fragile items that stood at their eye level.  “Please be careful and don’t touch anything,” I gently reminded them.

We were warmly greeted by one of the co-owners, Amy Garces, and told to choose a room to dine in.  My children were happy to pick one.

Cindy Gulley poses with a couple of nutcrackers.

Cindy Gulley poses with a couple of nutcrackers.

A couple vacationing on South Padre Island from Illinois perused the room.  Jerry and Cindy Gulley were on their way to the zoo when they googled resale shops and found Ritzy Resale.  “It was on our way, so we thought we’d stop and check it out.  It’s definitely a different shop.  I like the way they’ve got their rooms laid out for dining,” remarked Jerry.

Cindy was on a mission to find a nutcracker for her son, who collects them.  She picked a good time to visit, as all of Ritzy’s Christmas items are currently 75% off.

My favorite part of the visit, outside of eating my delicious meal, was talking with Amy and her co-owner and mother, Diana Masso.  Ritzy Resale has been in existence for five years, with loyal, committed customers and newbies that did not know they existed until stumbling across them.

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Diana Masso, one of the co-owners of the Ritzy Resale Shop.

Located at 814 Boca Chica Blvd, the warm shop was originally a home built by the Barnard family.  With larger rooms, windows and hardwood floors, it has all the charms to make a person feel nostalgic.  “People tell us [coming here] is like walking into [their] aunt’s house or grandma’s house,” added Masso.

A lifelong lover of antiques, cooking and baking, Masso wanted to find a way to combine them all.  “I was turning 50, and decided if I don’t do it now [open a shop], I’m not gonna do it.  I decided to go out on a limb,”  remembered Masso.

The littles play with safe, unbreakable beads.  It was good to talk antique shop and tea time etiquette with them.

The littles play with safe, unbreakable beads. It was good to talk antique shop and tea time etiquette with them.

While I was having a conversation with Amy and Diana, my children found some safe beads I agreed they could look at.  Every now and then, they would each chime in, “Look at this, mama!” like it was the coolest thing they had ever seen.

With a variety of menu items, Ritzy Resale offers everything from Mediterranean foods to sweets.  “We try and cook healthy.  We have a different special everyday,” added Masso.  As I sat there enjoying my lunch and the company of my children, I couldn’t help but envision future mother-daughter tea dates and celebrations.  “This is a good mom retreat place,” said Masso.  I couldn’t agree more.

I highly recommend their famous chicken salad and house salad.  This was my delicious lunch.

I highly recommend their famous chicken salad and house salad. This was my delicious lunch.

For more information on the Ritzy Resale Shop and Lunch Veranda, please visit their Facebook page.  If you decide to check it out, take me with you.

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Sharkey’s Hair It Is

Sharkey's Hair It Is specializes in parties for little girls.

Sharkey’s Hair It Is specializes in parties for little girls.

The main floor of Sharkey's.

The main floor of Sharkey’s.

Walking into Sharkey’s Hair It Is is a visually stimulating experience.  With Hollywood lights lining the stylists’ mirrors, bold colors on the walls, a couple of televisions playing popular shows with options to play the Xbox, and pop culture music—both old and new—playing on the speaker, your attention is captured.

Originally based  in Connecticut as “Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids”, Sharkey’s Hair It Is was created to cater to the whole family.  With locations mostly in the East Coast US, and as far away as Ireland and Egypt , it is the first of its kind to show up in South Texas.  Owner of the local franchise, Marcos Saldivar, says, “My vision is to have one in each city here in South Texas.  We’re all about customer service.  When you come in, we treat you like you’re walking into somebody’s house.  We offer water and want people to feel comfortable.”

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This pink room is a popular party venue for little girls.

When asked what the secret of their three years of success has been, manager Mary Valdez commented, “We have good customer service for the kids.  A lot of parents tell us their children are requesting to come and get their hair cut here.  We treat the whole family.  They leave very happy.”  The aforementioned Xboxes, she notes, are there for whoever wants to play them, whether it be a child or an adult.

A popular venue among little girls, Sharkey’s offers two different birthday party packages.  One is for 12 girls for two hours at $375, and includes a hairstyle, make-up and nails.  They also get to dress up and play planned games in between.  Sharkey’s provides drinks and pizza, and parents have the option of bringing a cake.  The smaller package is for 6 girls for an hour and a half and includes all the same perks for $275.

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Two examples of the cars children can choose to sit in while getting their hair done.

Party Coordinator and stylist Karie Recio noted, “[Parents] like the space because they don’t have to do everything.  We have enough people to take care of the kids; it’s adapted for them, especially little girls.  They enjoy dressing up and being with the ladies.”

Haircuts for adults are $18, and $15 for children.  All haircuts come with a shampoo, and girls can get their nails done for no extra charge.  Children receive a balloon and a lollipop when they are done, and have the choice of sitting in a special car of their choice while being treated.

With great customer service and clientele, it looks like Sharkey’s Hair It Is is here to stay.

For more information on Sharkey’s, please visit their website or Facebook page.

Local Sharkey's manager, Mary Valdez, is very helpful and committed to her clients.

Local Sharkey’s manager, Mary Valdez, is very helpful and committed to her clients.

 

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The Village Play Cafe

The scene:  A strip mall off of Price Road in Brownsville.  You walk in and immediately question if, somehow, you have been magically transported to Austin, Texas.  Bob Marley is playing and a cute barista greets you with, “Hi, welcome to The Village.”  Hipster at its core, a quick glance around reveals chalk art advertising, choice pastries and a children’s soft play area.  That’s right, it’s a coffee shop and a fun place where children can play.  The place is a paradox.  And that’s exactly what owner and creator, Jessica Lopez, originally had in mind for The Village Play Cafe.

Owner and creator, Jessica Lopez, chats with guests while serving them.

Owner and creator of The Village Play Cafe, Jessica Lopez, prepares a Dandy Blend Mocha.

“This place is for the moms, the parents, the caregivers,” she explained.  “From the research that I’ve done, I know that some of the most important years in a child’s life are the first 3-5.  But it’s also one of the loneliest times for the parents, especially the mothers.  This is a place that caregivers can enjoy.”  A mom of young children herself, Lopez recognizes the change that occurs when transitioning from adulthood to parenthood.  She wanted to create a space where parents could connect with one another without having to worry about getting a babysitter.  “When people bring their children here, the children think it’s all for them.  But really, it’s for the parents.”

Filled with bright colors and large shapes, the soft play area is incredibly stimulating.  Geared specifically towards children ages 0-4, the space invites them to explore, create and jump around in their socks without worry of injury.  The objects can be stacked, and, though little visitors have yet to discover this, are held together by pieces of velcro.  Inspired originally by her very active first-born daughter when she was one-year old, Lopez noticed that parks and parties were not always safe areas.  “It became work for me, whenever I took her to a park or party; I never really got to sit down and take a break,” she noted.  The daughter of a school teacher, Lopez also wanted The Village to be inclusive for special needs children and their families.

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A couple of children enjoy the soft play area.

Everything, from the floor, to the walls, and the toys themselves, is soft.

Everything, including the floor and the walls, is soft.

A big visionary, she has abstract art by local artists displayed on the walls, and plans on alternating them seasonally to give new talent exposure.  Older siblings are allowed to play on the mats as long as they are respectful.  There is also a homework nook towards the back of The Village where students can work on school work or other projects.  Free wi-fi is also available.  Plans for the month of September include getting photographers to conduct mini-photo sessions for families in attendance.  Future plans include bringing in yoga instructors, jewelry makers and masseuses.  Lopez and her sister, Karen Ramos, want to collaborate with other local businesses.  They hope that The Village Play Cafe becomes a, “Mother Hub.”

Though there are available day passes, Lopez strongly encourages getting a membership.  Children 0-4 can have a day pass for $12 (siblings in the same age group get a 50% off discount), and everyone else gets in free.  Monthly membership is $60.  Both day passes and membership allow for guests to stay as long as they want.  Pastries, sandwiches and a variety of high quality coffee are available for reasonable prices.

 

A local mom, Viviana Medina, works on a school assignment

A local mom, Viviana Medina, works on a school assignment.

As you walk around the play cafe, it is booming with brilliance and potential.  It is well on its way to being the support system Lopez envisions for its members:  a village.  For more information, please visit their website: thevillageplaycafe.liveeditaurora.com You can also look them up on Instagram: @thevillageplaycafe

Giana Gallardo Hesterberg is passionate about many things, including being a wife, mother, teacher, speaker, blogger, gardener and friend.  You can follow some of her adventures on her blog storiesbytheseashore.blogspot.com

 

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