by Rachel Goode, Occupational Therapist
Integrated Pediatric Interventions at JCFS Chicago
The holiday season can be frustrating and confusing for a child with common sensory sensitivities. Bright lights, loud music, new foods, crowded rooms, gift giving and different expectations can cause meltdowns and other disruptive behaviors.
We have some tips to help prepare your child for the excitement of the season, and a joyful December!
- Bring along ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones when in a noisy crowd to help drown out loud sounds.
- Allow your child to take a "noise break" if you are at a loud holiday party, at a crowded store or at a religious service.
- Find a quiet room, hallway or bathroom for a short period of time to allow your child to become regulated.
- Holiday parties can be very visually stimulating and crowded. Find a spot for your child to sit that faces away from the crowd and decorations. This will limit the visual input and help him focus.
- Try and have your child sit away from buffet tables if he is sensitive to smells.
- For a child who is sensitive to new smells, you can have him use a familiar lip balm or lotion to give him a familiar scent.
- If you know your child is a picky eater, bring along a few food items. You can still offer your child items that are served. He might try some if other family members are eating the food.
- Don't let other family members pressure you into forcing your child to eat foods they don't like, explain to them that you are working on expanding his food choices.
- Allow your child to sit in between family members to decrease the possibility of getting lightly touched or brushed up against by strangers. Often times the light touch can be very dysregulating for children with tactile sensitivities.
- Make a plan in advance on how to act if your child dislikes hugs. Teach your child how to offer his hand for a handshake or a high five instead. Talking with your family members prior to the gathering will help them understand why your child may not want to give a hug.
- Find clothing options that are both appropriate for the gathering, but are also comfortable for your child. Allow your child to try on the outfit prior to the day of the event and bring an extra outfit that you know your child likes just in case.
Movement Seeking Child
- Give your child movement breaks; show him activities that are allowed inside or take him outside for a short break.
- Make sure you provide your child with movement before the event to enhance endurance (animal walks, wall pushes, yoga poses, hopping on one foot, going outside to run, jump, march, etc.)
- Allow your child to bring along a calming toy or fidget to provide him with something to keep his hands busy. This is especially helpful for kids who have a hard time keeping their hands to themselves. Preparing a "busy bag" will provide a few calming activities to allow him to take a break without interrupting the event.
- Make sure to also provide calming movement after the event to help the child regulate.