Thriving During the Holidays With Your Sensory Sensitive Child

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The holidays are a time for getting together with family and friends, attending holiday parties, going shopping, and taking vacations from work and school. Unfortunately, these activities are also a time for deviating from the normal routine, and frequenting locations that are busy, loud and fast paced. For a child who has sensory issues, this can cause a daily overload of the system, resulting in temper tantrums and other acting out behaviors. While these meltdowns are not “part of the schedule” and might be unexpected, it is important to keep in mind that your child is reacting to demands that exceed his/her ability to cope. Reading behavioral cues, building coping skills, and maintaining a sense of calmness will serve to make these times easier.

Below are a few suggestions for supporting your sensory sensitive child throughout the holiday season and the New Year:

  • Maintain bedtime routines as much as possible. If you know your child will be up later than usual for an event or family function, make sure to build in time for a quiet activity to “recharge” his/her system before and/or after.
  • Talk with your child about what to expect for the day. Some kids benefit from a visual schedule.
  • When attending holiday concerts, plays, or even trips to the store, consider the value of your child attending these events and if it is better to get a babysitter. If your child needs to go, then consider purchasing noise cancelling headphones to block auditory stimulation.
  • If you plan on attending Church services during the holidays and your child does not attend church on a regular basis, make sure to explain to him/her what will be happening during the service, and how long the service will be. It might also be helpful to bring some quiet activities (coloring book, puzzles, etc.) for a distraction if your child gets restless during the sermon.
    Make time for physical outlets and expression of energy for your child. Parents can usually find activities during the holidays at the local YMCA and recreation centers for children who are on break from school.
  • If you will be going to a friend’s or relative’s house, plan ahead and bring some sensory coping skills your child can use such as stress balls, headphones, a favorite toy or stuffed animal, art supplies, books, etc. In addition, ask your friend or relative if there is a place in the home that your child can go to if he/she needs a quiet place to take a break (i.e. a bedroom, basement, bathroom, etc).
  • Try to stick with a regular routine for meals. Eating too many sugary treats and skipping meals during this hectic time of year can lead to increased irritability and a decreased tolerance for coping with sensory stressors.
  • Schedule time during each day for everyone to check in and slow down for a moment; even if you only have a few minutes to practice some deep breathing. Modeling this important skill for your child will benefit him/her well after the holidays are over.
  • As a parent, it is just as important for you to practice good self-care during the holidays. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating (mostly) balanced meals, and have outlets for resetting and refueling. Your sensory sensitive child will be responding to your cues, so if you are stressed out, this will impact your child’s response to triggers.

Happy Holidays! Enjoy your time with family and friends!

Written by Heidi Kloss, Ph.D. for the Linden Blog. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment at Linden BP call 440/250-9880.

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