The holidays are a busy time, and there are lights, gifts, music, and crowds everywhere. It’s overwhelming for almost everyone, but for a child with sensory processing challenges, it’s a nightmare. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to make the holidays easier on yourself and your sensitive child.
You know this, but it’s so easy to overlook planning for a child’s sensory issues with everything else you have to do during November and December. The key is to look at all the special events on the calendar and plan for each one. You certainly don’t have to do this all at once. Just plan far enough ahead that you can do the next two steps easily. Be sure to ask yourself these questions:
- Do we need to attend every activity on the calendar right now? If not, which ones will we attend? How will we choose what we’ll attend?
- Where are we going?
- Who will be there?
- What problems are likely to arise for my child?
- What steps can I take now to address those issues? Talk to friends or family members? Make adjustments to our family’s plans by leaving earlier or getting there later?
- Will I need to take familiar foods my child will eat so we don’t have to deal with food allergy or texture issues?
- Are there certain items I need to pack so my child has a calming activity to do if he gets overwhelmed?
Prepare yourself and your child for these holiday gatherings. You’ll have to make the call whether to let your child see the full calendar at once or just spoon feed one event at a time—the one coming up first. Some kids do better if they know everything that’s coming, and for some that’s too much. Tell your child about the plan you’ve come up with to handle each event. Answer any questions he has, and make notes to follow-up on anything your child thinks of that you forgot. Working together at this stage and backtracking to the planning stage if necessary will ensure that important details aren’t forgotten.
Execute the plan you and your child have gone over. Be sure your child knows:
- Where a safe place is to slip away to if he feels overwhelmed and on the verge of melting down.
- A secret signal he can give you if he needs you and slipping away alone isn’t going to be enough.
- Where the foods you brought for him are.
- Where his iPad, stuffed animal, or other comforting items and activities are if he needs them.
- Any specific details he needs regarding the location or people involved.
You’ve done the hard work. Now it’s time for you and your child to enjoy as stress-free a gathering as possible. Be alert to your child’s moods and signals, but try to enjoy yourself!