By Jennafer Young, OTR/L
The Holiday season is supposed to be a time for wonder, family fun, and catching up on your lost sleep, right? But with the kids home from school and everyone’s schedules going haywire, they may quickly spiral into a dreaded season...especially if you have a child with particular needs for sensory processing and/or emotional regulation. Check out these simple ideas below to help prepare you and your kids for an enjoyable holiday season! And remember, no day is perfect. Ever. So don’t expect the holiday to be perfect either!
Create a new schedule:
Everyone’s routine is crazy during school vacation. Try to establish new patterns and routines so your child knows what to expect. Aim for consistency in things like bedtime, mealtime, wake-up time, outings...when possible.
Predict the change:
There are certain inevitable changes during the holidays, especially if you will be out of town. Help your child prepare for these changes by discussing them ahead of time. Let your child know what to expect for timing, number of people present, activities, etc. Give special attention to situations you know will go against your child’s typical preferences (such as the crowded extended family reunion if you know your child is sensitive to noise or busy places).
Enough is enough:
Be willing to arrive early, leave early, or cancel some events that are crammed into the holidays if your child is overwhelmed. Count the cost - will you really enjoy ringing in the New Year at midnight if your child is having a meltdown from overstimulation and exhaustion? Maybe you leave at 9pm when he or she is still regulated. Once the kids are safely in bed, you can treat yourself to something you love at midnight to celebrate instead.
Don’t forget all the sensory strategies that have been helping your child in your typical routine! Try to incorporate these regularly into your holiday schedule. Whether it’s heavy work (like pulling a sled or making a snowman), deep pressure (like blanket squeezes or back rubs), or oral input (like drinking through a small straw or chewing crunchy foods), remember your child’s preferred sensory strategies and use them proactively! Bring the weighted blanket to Grandma’s house. Stash a few chewy/crunchy snacks for the car ride. Whatever has been working, keep doing it. Consult your child’s OT for specific ideas appropriate for your son or daughter.
Explain to others:
If you’re worried about the in-laws’ perceptions of your child’s behaviors or the strategies you use, consider giving a little heads-up to the extended family. Let them know your child is learning and growing, but all the change during the holidays is hard. Let them know you’ve got some tricks up your sleeve that might look strange but have proven to be helpful to your child. A little understanding goes a long way.