My special needs children are not in school right now, but I have to admit any holiday or special occasion that involves parents posting pictures of their teacher gifts has a way of raising my blood pressure. Those pictures of cute gifts- often that took a lot of time or money, both in short supply around our house– seemed like one more thing I was bound to get marked down against me on the bad-parent list of the classroom teacher.
Instead of beating yourself up this holiday season, try one of these suggestions instead.
First of all, I’ve been a classroom teacher. The bad parent list doesn’t exist in the way your insecurities want you to believe. Don’t worry about showing up on it- at least not for something like not giving a gift with your gratitude. If you are struggling with the gift giving approach to gratitude this coming holiday season, please know that it is optional. Your child’s teachers are not keeping track. Just take that out of your mind once and for all.
Second of all, most classroom teachers have more ornaments, mugs, pencils, etc. than they could ever know what to do with. Not that they don’t appreciate those things, I promise they do- but they aren’t going to suffer from lack without a cutesy gift from my child. A cutesy gift, by the way, that my child may or may not be able to contribute to making in the first place.
If you do want to give a gift, consider something heavily practical and probably consumable that can take a burden off of them in the classroom. Bonus points if you buy a pack of erasers and include a note about how you know your sensory seeker has probably chewed all of the erasers off of every pencil in their classroom by this point of the year! Buy a Costco pack of Kleenex and give one to each classroom that your child spends time in.
This brings me to the last place that I sometimes find gratitude more of a burden than a spontaneous expression- the sheer number of staff, faculty, teachers, therapists, aides, etc that my child comes into contact with over the course of a normal day. This list is not just one or two people. I bet for a lot of special needs students, it includes dozens!
If you have the time to coordinate a practical group gift with other special needs parents that would be amazing. Can you all pitch in $20 towards something that will benefit the school? Or, can you give one larger gift to the school in your child’s name and make sure that you list the staff that work with your child by name in a card that will be seen by their supervisors? Both of these options do require more investment of time or money but can easily cover a large number of recipients in one shot.
Another idea is to make a habit of immediate positive feedback- either verbal or written- throughout the year. Did a staff member go above and beyond? Just send a quick email or note card thanking them and copy their supervisor (excluding any details). You can also leave a review naming the staff or their role and what they did on the district Facebook page.
For example, “My son rides a special bus route and the aide that helps always has a smile on her face and is ready to welcome him each morning. She makes his transition to school much easier. Thank you!” It might seem meaningless or even free to you, but you will be helping the school and district in ways that are too numerous to list in this post. Five minutes of stolen time in a clinic waiting room can really add up throughout the year!
Finally, don’t forget to cover your child’s entire support team- school, home, medical, church, etc- with prayer. It is the ultimate form of thanks to recommend them to the care of our Heavenly Father and Blessed Mother!
This is true now and forever…even if you don’t tell anyone or post any pictures.
Heidi is a country living Catholic mama from Southeast Minnesota. She and her husband homeschool and raise seven living children on 8 acres of grass and mud puddles (plus a house). You can read her blog at www.workandplaydaybyday.com.