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Help Your Child with Sensory Issues During the Holidays

Are you asking yourself, “How do I help my child with sensory issues over the holidays?” Holidays are meant to be joyous and to remind us of what is most important in life, but we parents of children with sensory processing disorder (SPD) often struggle to help our kids function well and appreciate the holidays. We want the focus to be on the reason for the season, family and friends, and just having fun. But it can be so hard to support our kids who can go into sensory overload or feel anxious about transitions and unfamiliar routines!

Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, my coauthor of Raising a Sensory Smart Child, offers a terrific article on how to help your child with sensory issues over the holidays. One of her tips that I and my family have found extremely helpful over the years is to stick to the usual routine as much as possible.

Let me explain. It’s not that as a family, we don’t go to holiday gatherings, or stay up late on certain nights, or have people come to our home and stay late. It’s that we recognize that sticking to a regular bedtime matters a lot when it comes to supporting self-regulation in a kid with sensory issues. If your child can go to sleep at the usual time, it will help her function so much better the next day. In fact, a child with SPD might be miserable all the next day, and have trouble napping, if she is overtired from staying up late. If she can’t go to sleep at the usual time, plan to have her get deep pressure and a break from stimulation as soon as possible before she gets to sleep. In our home, mindfulness meditation before bedtime on those exciting nights during the holiday season has always been an invaluable tool.

If staying up late is unavoidable, check in with your child and make solutions available. Can she go to a room that is quiet and dark and fall asleep to an app of soothing sounds while the party continues? I have fond memories of lying on coats laid on Grandma’s bed, with lights off and a soft pillow under my head, while the holiday party continued in the other room. The next day, my mother let me sleep in and encouraged me to take a nap several hours after waking up. Talking to your child about what will help him fall asleep or wake up, and compassionately listening to him express his needs, will go a long way toward helping him advocate for himself and honor his sensory needs.

Familiar foods, clothing, and even pillows and blankets can help a child with sensory issues to feel a sense of routine and predictability. A picture To Do list using line drawings or photographs to explain what the routine for the day will be can help enormously. Talk your child through what the day and evening will be like and she will be less anxious and better able to handle the change in her routine and help you understand which parts of the routine are most important for her to keep.

holidays sensory issues child

You will learn more sensory smart parenting strategies in the award-winning Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues. There is a reason we have so many 5-star reviews for the book—it has helped many parents! Do pick up a copy for yourself and perhaps for someone else, as a holiday gift.

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