The holiday season can be a stressful time for all families, but can be especially overwhelming for children with sensory processing issues. Here are some tips to make this holiday season a success for all children.
Kids who struggle with changes in daily structure and routine do best when prepared well in advance. Discuss what will happen before, during, and after special occasions and what the expectations are for the child.
During vacation from school, try to stick to as normal of a schedule as possible with wake-up times and bedtimes the same.
Provide a schedule of events to help with transitions.
Make or use a large calendar to place significant events to help the child know when things are happening, such as grandma and grandpa visiting, school holiday party, Christmas Eve, etc.
Holiday gatherings can be quite loud. If your child is sensitive to noise, provide ear plugs, head phones playing soft relaxing music, and/or opportunities for breaks.
Wash new clothing before wearing. Let your child wear what is comfortable for them, even if it is a bit more casual. Also, be creative! Instead of a necktie, purchase a shirt that has one printed on it, or find an inexpensive iron-on decal.
If your child has food sensitivities or is a picky eater, bring the child’s favorite foods with you so he or she has something to eat during meal time. Holidays are a great time to explore new foods, but not a great time to force feeding issues.
If you attend an event where people are unfamiliar with your child, provide them information ahead of time about your child.
- They don’t like to be hugged, but they love to give high fives.
- If they become too overwhelmed, they may go hide or find a place to be by themselves, and this is okay. Please don’t pressure them to return to the group until they are ready.
- They are working with a therapist on tolerating new foods; one way we are working on this is to touch and play with food. Please don’t discipline them for doing this; it is a part of their learning.
If you plan to take your child to visit Santa, find a time where the event is less crowded, such as a weekday. Call ahead to see if there is a wait time, and attend a smaller event rather than going to a busy mall.
Follow your child’s lead and don’t force an interaction with Santa. If they don’t want to sit on his lap, maybe standing next to him would do. If the child doesn’t want to talk with Santa, maybe they could write him a letter or draw him a picture.
Social stories prior to visiting Santa and for all holiday events may be helpful. For example: “I am going to visit Santa. Santa is a very happy man who smiles a lot and says ‘Ho, Ho, Ho.’ He wears a red suit and has a white beard. Many boys and girls want to visit with Santa, like me, to tell him what presents we want for Christmas. I will have to wait for my name to be called to visit Santa but I will patiently wait my turn and think about what I am going to tell Santa I want for Christmas. I can sit on Santa’s lap or stand next to him. I will look at the camera and smile really big, so my mom and dad can have a photo of me with Santa. Santa may ask me what I want for Christmas, so I will tell him what I want. I will wave goodbye to Santa and say ‘Thank you’ and let the next boy or girl enjoy time with Santa!”
Limit decorations placed in the home or the child’s room to give them a calmer place to come home to.
If traveling by plane, practice carrying baggage, going through security, fastening the seat belt, etc. If possible, visit the airport ahead of time to do a practice run with security permission. Wear comfortable clothes, try to schedule flights around daily routines, provide visual schedules and social stories about air travel, and bring sensory calming toys and favorite snacks on the plane.
If traveling by car, practice short trips ahead of time, plan travel around daily schedule, provide lots of opportunities for breaks, reward and praise good behavior (think stickers or M&Ms!), bring sensory calming toys, and buy lots of new, inexpensive toys to play with. Check Pinterest™ for lots of activity ideas.
Hopefully these tips help you ease your stress during the holiday season and help you and your family enjoy this wonderful time of the year.
For further information on sensory processing concerns or to ask questions, please feel free to contact our Pediatric Occupational Therapy department at 701-857-5286.