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Sensory Prep for Season’s Greetings

Whether traveling or staying home, the holidays can be a fun and chaotic time. For children, it can go either way as well. For some kids, the holidays are enjoyable, for others it can be overstimulating and intolerable. There are really no hard and fast rules that will guarantee “perfection,” but making plans ahead of time has given parents a better sense of control over the unexpected holiday stressors.

If your child sounds like the latter one, here are a few simplestrategies that will help make the holidays a happier time for everyone.

Our first strategy to tackle this holiday season with a child who is overwhelmed and overstimulated by family occasions or large gatherings is to prep for specific problems that you can almost guarantee will come up. Sit with your child and review your expectations for them as well as their expectations and boundaries.

For example, if you and your child both know a certain family member will greet your child a certain way that makes them feel uncomfortable, you can prep for that and find an alternative way to great the family member. For example, your aunt wants a kiss, so you prepare your child to give her a hug, instead.

Another strategy is to have a “plan b” prepared. Before the holiday begins, you may want to work out a backup strategy that includes activities that your child can enjoy in their own space, away from the high-energy of the group. We recommend packing a “calm down bag” that is effective and full of things your child likes and will use, like games, puzzles and coloring books. And you don’t always have to be the one to excuse yourself, as well. If you feel comfortable, make arrangements with a cousin or relative to excuse themselves and the child to another room to read a book or play a game. This link will give you some examples of a calm down kit as well as some templates.

It is also helpful to develop a signal that your child can give you when they’re feeling overwhelmed. When they give you the cue, you can remove them from the party or gathering to help talk to them or calm them down. Children must take an active role in helping themselves, too. Discuss proper and improper behavior with your child before the day begins. Discuss and agree to a reward for them that they may receive after the day is over and behavior expectations are met.

Some family members may not quite understand the needs of your child. Instead of getting frustrated, it is important to educate your family about some of the symptoms of characteristics of their diagnosis (if they have one) and what works and does not work for them. Explaining this to your family could help them understand if and when you need to step out to assist your child. Openly communicating these needs may even encourage them to adjust their behavior, or lend a helping hand to you during these times.

Our final and perhaps most important strategy is to acknowledge and know your own limits. Take care of yourself so that your patience and tolerance does not wear thin. The holidays are often stressful without the need to care for children, behavioral issues or sensory challenges. Give yourself enough space and grace to embrace the holidays in a way that meets both you and your family’s needs.

Nicole Huertas

LPC, Certified Children’s Yoga Instructor