The holiday season can be a time of great joy, but for children with sensory issues, new schedules and once-a-year happenings can spell a-n-x-i-e-t-y.
To reduce that possibility, Easterseals offers eight strategies to help parents and guardians and their sensory-sensitive children enjoy this festive season:
1. Prepare a schedule. A verbal, visual or handwritten schedule is imperative for busy days with sensory-sensitive children, particularly days that include multiple transitions and activities that may be unfamiliar to your child. Discussing events in advance and reviewing them several times can help a child understand what’s next, clarify expectations and reduce anxiety. Using social stories that include the timeline, activities and who’ll be attending can be comforting for children. Encourage questions and plan for any foreseen obstacles.
2. Be mindful of your child’s sensory needs. Try to avoid predictably stressful scenarios. For example, if your child does not like crowds, try shopping early in the morning or at night. If loud noises bother your child, try a smaller venue, or offer ear plugs or noise-reducing headphones. Determine a “break area” to serve as a safe escape as needed in case your child becomes overstimulated or overwhelmed.
3. Enlist your “village.” Have a family meeting and discuss holiday plans/activities that include your child. Discuss expectations with your family and problem solve potential obstacles in advance with them.
4. Prioritize sleep and meal schedules. Try not to deviate too much from your child’s daily schedule, with special attention to meal and nap/bed times. Keeping these predictable and scheduled as usual will pay off when it’s time to transition back to school, too.
5. Take proactive breaks. Locate a calm space/relax zone for each place you go and when possible, determine it in advance. Bring your child’s comfort toy(s) and identify a code word that your child can use to indicate they’re distressed. These often provide children with a sense of control and can reduce anxiety. Many meltdowns have been avoided by taking pro-active breaks.
6. Keep your child comfortable. Pack comfort items for your child when they’re out and about. These may include a favorite toy, book, music or coloring supplies. Bring extra items for your child to share with others to encourage socialization, too. If your child loves to play on your smartphone or another digital device, limit its use and only provide it during agreed-upon times (unless the device is used for communication with you).
7. Stay on track-food sensitivities: If your child has food allergies or sensitivities that may prevent them from enjoying holiday treats, bring alternatives enough to share.
8. Keep your holiday décor simple: The holidays are filled with twinkling lights, festive music and many new scents. To acclimate your child to changes in their home environment, for example, involve them in decorating. Allow them to help decide what and where holiday décor should be placed. Involving them in decision making gives a child a sense of control and can lead to some great “ah-ha” moments between you, too.
Happy Holidays from Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida! We wish you all the love and joy the season brings.