Dealing with Sensory Meltdowns Over the Holidays
By Sarah Rossman, Occupational Therapist
Adapted from “5 tips to reduce sensory meltdowns during the holidays,” by Heather Greutman (2013, December 17).
Children with sensory processing difficulties are often overwhelmed during the holiday season. There are new sights, smells, sounds, activities, and places to explore, which can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming for your child. Participating in all of these new situations at once can lead to sensory overload and meltdowns. Here are a few ways to help reduce and cope with sensory overload and meltdowns during the holiday season.
- Use a “calm down bag”
Gather up a few of the items you know help your child to calm and carry them in a bag while traveling to different activities and events throughout the season. Some ideas of what to put in your bag include: fidget balls, sensory brush, weighted lap pad, headphones, chewy tube, chewy snack, calming music, calming sensory bottle (colored water with glitter and other small items inside of a water bottle). Use these items when engaging in overwhelming activities and provide them to your child when you notice signs of sensory overload. Provide your child with these items during the activity, as well as when needing to be calmed during a meltdown.
- Use the Tried and True
Engage your child in the basic sensory activities which you know work well to help calm. These activities might include brushing, joint compressions, animal walks, and enough time for sensory play throughout each and every day. Having sensory input throughout each day during the holidays will help your child to be more regulated and better tolerate overwhelming activities. When your child is having a sensory meltdown, use these tried and true techniques to help them calm and re-engage in holiday activities with your family.
- Know Before You Go
When engaging your child in a new activity, try to find out as much as possible about it, and share this with your child before going. This way, once engaged, the activity is not entirely new and overwhelming. This might include watching videos or looking at pictures of Christmas light displays, listening to different music, playing games with different scents or oils (think vanilla, cinnamon, peppermint, etc.), or even driving by the setting or walking around and exploring it before the actual event. This successful preparation will help your child to feel more comfortable with the now “not so new” activity when your family is ready to participate in the real thing.
- Keep a Routine and Plan for Changes
Routines are so important for children so they know what to expect throughout the day. Although it may be difficult to keep the same routine during the holidays as you have throughout the rest of the year, it is beneficial to stick to a routine as much as possible. When there are changes in the routine, talk to your child about it. For example, prepare them to go to Grandma’s to eat dinner instead of eating at your house. This preparation can be done by talking with your child, using a visual for the schedule of events throughout the day, and using transition strategies to help ease transitions. When a change in routine is inevitable, make sure to have a calm down bag and talk about coping strategies with your child.
- Find or Create a Break Area
While out and about, take time to have a “break area” available for your child. This could mean talking to a hostess ahead of time to discuss the use of a quiet room in their house, spending a few extra minutes in the car between activities, or stepping out of an overwhelming store for a few minutes to regain composure. Let your child know that this break area is available when they need it. Watch your child for signs of sensory escalation and take them to a quiet room for relaxation and re-composure. When a quiet room is not available, use the calming items from your calm down bag and provide one to your child when in overstimulating environments. For example, wear headphones into a noisy store, or play with a stretchy/squishy fidget when at a friend’s home.
Using these tips will help you and your child to better enjoy the holiday season. Remember to try to stay calm as a parent; maybe even using some calming strategies together with your child to best enjoy the holidays.
Greutman, H. (2013, December 17). 5 tips to reduce sensory meltdowns during the holidays. Retrieved from http://www.growinghandsonkids.com/5-tips-to-reduce-sensory-meltdowns-during-the-holidays.html