November 21, 2023
The holidays can be a wonderful, fun filled time of year. So how can you make the most of the season while avoiding sensory overload for your child? With the changes in routine & overall busyness of the holidays it can be challenging – but it’s not impossible! Here are 8 tips for avoiding sensory overload this holiday season –
Aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep each night. It can be tempting to let your child stay up later, especially when there are other kiddos around, but prioritizing sleep can make a big difference during the day. When possible, try to keep to your typical bedtime routine, making adjustments as needed.
They may struggle to settle their nervous system down after the bustling fun filled days. A weighted blanket, or a weighted buddy might be useful to help them calm down. Calming music & essential oils might also help.
Muscle work is incredibly grounding & naturally regulates the nervous system. Luckily there are lots of fun ways to get muscle work in during the holidays. You could go on a long walk or bike ride outside before guests arrive (or before you leave).
To get the whole family involved you could go visit your favorite local park or playground, or coordinate a family football game, or play tag.
For some more practical ideas – have your child help you bring in the groceries from the car or wipe down the windows or table. Kneading pie crust or dough is also a great way to get muscle work!
Animal walk cards can be a fun way to get some muscle work in – download our pack here.
Having a visual schedule can help your child know what to expect. You could make a schedule for the week, or you could make a visual to-do list for the day (3 – 4 steps/task max to avoid overwhelm). Or both! You could also provide a ‘monthly glance’ for your child so they can see the big picture. Here are a few links to get you started – morning routine, weekly plan, monthly plan
This could be either a room or a quiet area where your child could read or look at a book, listen to rhythmical music, play with their favorite toys – whatever is calming to them (no need to try out new strategies – just stick to what works). It could also be nice to have a weighted item to use, like a blanket or a stuffed animal, and headphones to dampen loud noises.
Having a fine motor bin is a great way to readily have activities when your child needs them. You could include..
You could also include a few fidgets in your regulation kit. Visual fidgets like a ‘liquid motion bubbler’ or ‘glitter wands’ would be an excellent fidget to include. Headphones are another sensory tool we recommend having on hand, especially the kind of headphones that go over your ears like earmuffs.
To get some oral & eye muscle work (very grounding for the nervous system) pack a pinwheel that your child can blow. You could also pack dixie cups & straws – build a tower with the cups & blow through the straw to tumble the tower.
When your child struggles with processing sensory information, all of the little things can add up, and each sensory experience takes energy. Letting your child choose what is comfortable for them to wear for the holidays can reserve their ‘sensory energy’ for experiences that are out of your control. If they are wearing an outfit that they aren’t comfortable in, they are much more likely to have a meltdown.
As previously mentioned, there are a lot of sensory experiences over the holidays and your child is going to use a lot of energy to keep everything together. Making sure they are well fed (& not just running off of rolls & pie) will help them stay regulated.
This might mean that you prepare them a separate, well balanced meal & have plenty of snacks that they will eat on hand. Of course they are welcome to eat the holiday food, but having a back up plan to ensure they get enough protein will help keep them going.
It is so easy to pack your schedule with fun events during the holidays, but it is important to remember the energy it takes your child to participate in all of these events. Your child needs more down time to recharge than you might think! As much fun as going to all of the holiday events might seem, it’s ok to say no if it is going to potentially be too much for your child & family.
Taking these tips into consideration should help your family avoid sensory overload this holiday season. We hope that you have a wonderful holiday and are able to make lifetime memories with the ones you love most! Be sure to visit our resource library to download our Animal Walk Card Deck, and our blog for helpful information on sensory processing, self regulation, and all things occupational therapy.
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