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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

10 Winter Break Activities for Emotional Bonding with your Special Child

During winter break, all regular routines are suspended. No school, no therapy, even swimming lessons are canceled. It’s a tense and confusing time for many children with special needs, but there is one thing can improve the situation: love.

Winter break is the perfect opportunity to focus on emotional bonding. Strengthening emotional bonds within the family can give a boost to social skills, speech, and self-regulation.

Here are 10 relationship-building activities for your winter break:


During December’s long nights, bundle up, step outside and look up. Amateur astronomers can use an app such as Google Sky to identify stars, planets, and constellations. Some of the constellations visible in the Northern hemisphere during December are Orion and his hunting dog Canis Major, Perseus and the whale Cetus, Cassiopeia and Cepheus, and the two bears Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Take the opportunity to teach words like moon and star, and share the awe and wonder of the sky.


When it’s time to get warm, cuddle up and tell a story. It can be a personal story based on photos from an old family album or something more complicated like the ancient myths behind the constellations.

If you’re looking for a simple story that guarantees a laugh, try one of these books:


Emotional Bonding with your child that has special needs

During winter break, we always see lots of other families with special needs at the pool. It’s when we all have plenty of time to work on sensory integration, water safety, and anxiety reduction. Holding a child in the water helps to develop feelings of closeness, security and love.

Art project

Emotional Bonding with your child that has special needs

Create something new and beautiful together in whatever medium you prefer. My family usually chooses to paint, but others find it less frustrating to work with clay or to make a collage.


Take advantage of the cold weather to try something new. Ice skating is challenging for everyone, and skating together is a nice way to demonstrate that parents are only human, too. Call the ice rink ahead of time to find out if wheelchairs are permitted on the ice during open skate.

Make a snack

Emotional Bonding with your child that has special needs

Food preparation is a fun way to combine life skills and sensory integration. All kinds of families bond by preparing food together. Try making a simple snack like popcorn, a smoothie or no-bake cookies and then enjoy eating it together!

Sing a song

Some people learn to sing before they can talk. Whether you can play an instrument or a video game like Rock Band, or just sing along in the car, look for songs that are uplifting and easy to understand. George Harrison’s “Here Comes The Sun” is guaranteed to drive away the winter blues.

Play a game

Pick an evening for family game night. Depending on your family’s needs, you can choose casual games or games with lots of rules.

Here are some game suggestions to try if you haven’t already:

  • Sticker Stalker: Each family member gets a sheet of stickers. Within a certain period of time, each person should stealthily put the stickers on other family members without getting their attention. The first person to use up all of his or her stickers wins.
  • Family Olympics: Gold, silver and bronze awards are given for each event. Events may be traditional sports events such as running or gymnastics, or non-traditional events such as a water balloon relay race.
  • Two Truths, One Lie: Each person writes two true things and one false thing about himself or herself, and puts the card in a jar. Then everyone takes turns guessing what is true and what is false. The person with the most correct guesses wins.
  • Suspend: Suspend is a game of balance. The person who uses up all of his or her pieces without making the structure collapse is the winner.
  • HedBanz: This is a fun spin on the “What am I?” game. All players are given a headband with a card, but cannot see the card they are wearing. Others must describe the picture on the card. The winner is the first person to guess the card being worn on his or her head.

Indoor Campout

Set up the sleeping bags by the fireplace and make some hot chocolate. The process of setting up camp is half the fun. The other half is the snuggling and allowing an open-ended situation to unfold.

Lotion massage

Research on enhancing parent-child bonding through massage has yielded some very positive results. If you’re not sure how your child will react, try starting by massaging the hands with lotion. If that goes well, massage the feet and consider making it a daily ritual.

How will you bond with your family during winter break?

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Karen Wang

Written on December 21, 2015 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"

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