Preventing Sensory Overload During The Holidays

The holidays are a special time of year full of friends, family, crowded stores and parties, fun activities and joyful celebrations.

It is also loud, busy and bright and can easily overstimulate even the calmest of children and even adults. But for children with sensory sensitivities, the fun can easily turn into misery and confusion.

Here’s how you can make the holidays fun and still avoid sensory overload.

Children with Sensory Processing Disorder may not process the chaos of the holidays as quickly as others. Imagine a computer that is given too many commands at once and may glitch, freeze or slow down – that is the brain of a person with SPD.

If you are a parent of an SPD child, you probably already know their daily triggers and struggles and have an arsenal of tactics to help them.

But during the hustle and bustle and extra responsibilities parents take on during the holiday season, the SPD child may be unintentionally left with more triggers and less help.

All children experience some sort of sensory overload at some point in their life. And their response usually appears as undesired behaviors or fights that many parents blame on themselves – that they must be responding incorrectly to their child’s needs.

And to compound the problem, the child is too overwhelmed and/or too young to communicate what is going on in their heads and how they are feeling.

Here are a few clear-cut signs that your child is overwhelmed or overstimulated.

Lemon Lime Adventures reported:

  1. Behavior is Heightened and Busy: this might include jumping off furniture, running in the house, spinning, and pushing, just to name a few.

  2. Extremely Bothered by Noises: in spaces that seem quiet or subtle to you, this child might be covering their ears, screaming, making extra loud noises, to drone out the sounds that are overloading their brain.

  3. Aggressive Behavior: this might present itself as hitting, pushing, pulling, arguing, and even biting others

  4. Meltdowns Occur More Frequently: suddenly, and without warning the child might throw themselves on the ground, cry inconsolably, throw things, or even scream at you

  5. Withdrawn from Activities: this child might refuse to participate, refuse to go to a family function, or might even curl into a corner to read a book”

Now that you know the signs, here are ways to help all children; especially those with SPD have a fun and stress-free holiday season.

Be Prepared:

  • Is your child a picky eater or have food allergies or sensitivities? – Make sure to bring a dish to share that you know you child will like and eat. Keep it simple. Don’t worry if it feels too informal or is not a “traditional” dish. Mac n’ Cheese is not only a kid pleaser but also a crowd pleaser!

  • Choose clothing that your child feels comfortable in. – Many parents like to dress their kids up in cute holiday outfits, but the problem comes when the child is forced to wear it for the first time on the big day while everyone is rushing around to get ready. Make sure to buy your outfits early and have the kids try them on and wear them around the house before the big day. Choose fabrics that your child is used to, especially if they already have sensitivities to certain fabrics or clothing tags. If they are old enough, let your child help you pick their own clothes.

  • Keep it simple and don’t set the bar too high. – Many moms put extra stress on themselves and their kids to make everything perfect. Make a list of your expectations, then cut it in half. No one will miss the perfect hairbow or the polished shoes that are thrown off upon arrival, but you and your child will remember the fights or meltdowns they caused and the sleep that was lost over doing too much.

  • Communicate your concerns. – Make sure to talk to your friends and family in advance about any concerns you have that may contribute to your child becoming overstimulated. Is he/she sensitive to smells? Ask people to wear less or no perfumes and to limit scented candles. Maybe a window can be cracked somewhere so your child can retreat to fresher air if it becomes too much for them.

Here are some tips from other parents as reported by Lemon Lime Adventures:

“Watch closely for signs of stress. Get out before meltdowns (yours or theirs) ~Carolyn

Make sure his bag of tricks is full and his sensory diet is well and truly in place, we check in with each other over the day to make sure he is still on track. If I see the warning signs I will feed him and then get him outside to run around or give him a “hug” . ~Nikki

My son has a teepee tent he can go and retreat to when it’s too crazy for him. I also have his bucket of sensory toys that vibrate, flash, chewies, fidgets, and softness of a plush stuffy. ~Jeanine

If your child stims, give them a quiet place to do it so they can recalibrate their vestibular. ~Carolyn

We locate and plan for a sensory retreat in any location we might be and have a signal to communicate if things are feeling overwhelming. ~Shannon

Try smaller visits before and after with gifts, kind of like 3 small Christmas celebrations instead of one big over whelming one. ~Ginette

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I ask if there is a room he can go to when it gets to be too much for him. ~Sheryl

Avoid sugar and food dye.~Carolyn”

Finally, remember to relax and enjoy your children and family. Don’t worry about what your extended family may think about your requests.

You are doing what is best for your child. Put the focus where it should be – ensuring your children are safe and happy.

If you need to leave early or take a walk to keep the peace, do it.

In the end you will build happy memories and maybe even a few new traditions along the way.

Have you made special plans for the holidays to accommodate your child’s sensory needs?

Or do you have tips to share with other parents?

Let us know in the comments section below.




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