If you have children with sensory sensitivities, attending holiday parties can be a nightmare. Amidst the flashing lights of Christmas trees, burning flames on a Chanukiah, crowded rooms and festive singing, you may find that your child is completely overstimulated – and you are completely stressed out. On top of it all, you will probably be surrounded by long lost relatives who have no idea about Sensory Processing Disorder.
How will you survive the season, while saving face when it comes to the burning stares of your family?
(1) Keep it short and sweet
How long do you expect your child to keep it together? Figure out the ‘base line’ when it comes to your child’s behavior – if he tends to melt down after 45 minutes at a play date or a party, consider only keeping him in those kinds of situations for 45 minutes. Aim to leave on a good note! It’s better to leave and have people wonder why your child needed to go, rather than stay and have them realize why you should’ve left.
(2) Provide breaks
When you see that your child’s behavior is escalating, try taking him away from the crowd for some quiet time. Maybe he needs to blow off some steam and run laps, maybe he needs some core-engaging stretches, or maybe he would benefit from curling up with a book and a cuddle. You know your own kids, watch their actions and be attentive to how you can help set them up for success.
(3) Keep the main thing, the main thing.
Think about this: What is the most important part of this party? When you figure it out, you will know how far you should push your sensory-sensitive child to engage with the event. If the “main thing” is dinner, practice table manners ahead of time and lay out the exact expectations for your child. If the “main thing” is spending time with family members, prompt your child with ways in which she can connect with particular people. (Keep your expectations realistic – a 7yo child won’t naturally have a lot to say to a Great Grandma she has never met.)
(4) Be aware of triggers
What are your child’s triggers? If loud environments trigger behaviors, how can you limit your child’s exposure to overstimulating volumes? If you can’t control the time frame, be prepared to supervise him closely and act as his “external regulator”. If you see that he is becoming disregulated, take him away for a break and return when he is calm. Knowing your child’s triggers is the best strategy towards preventing undesirable behaviors.
This might be awkward, but have you tried explaining Sensory Integration to your family? They might not understand why you are so vigilant with your child’s environment and behavior, and may think that some of your strategies are weird. If you are able to tell more of your network about your child’s differences, you may find that they start to accept your child’s differences and treat situations with more thoughtfulness.
Happy Holidays from all of us at Kahlon Family Services!