With the holidays coming up, there are many things to keep in mind that might make your children uncomfortable. So what can you do to ensure you have a sensory friendly holiday season? We put together a list of things that may triggering, and what you can do about it to help your child transition in and out of this busy time with minimal stress for all involved!
Change in routine
The end of the year brings a lot of changes: with school being off, holiday closures, and sometimes traveling, days in November and December can be very different from what you (and your child) consider a typical routine. A lot of the time that means your days will look very different, and there may not be much to do about it, but try to keep as much of an unchanged rhythm as possible. Having meals, naps, and bedtimes happening when they usually do, as you’re able, and sticking to as much of a routine around them (maybe use the same plate for meals, or make sure you’re still reading a story and brushing teeth before bed) can help your child adapt more easily even if with schedule or setting changes.
Airports, long car rides, shopping trips, and even house guests are just a few of the ways your child may become overwhelmed during the holidays. Explain to them where you will be going, and what to expect. Consider showing them pictures of the place in advance so they know what to expect, talk to house guests (or hosts, if you are going somewhere) in advance to minimize potential triggers, have an exit strategy in place whenever possible and, especially when it is not, make sure to pack a “survival kit” (noise cancelling headphones, sunglasses to block all the blinking lights, a phone or tablet, a chewy toy, their favorite comfort food: anything that will make the experience more bearable if it all gets to be too much). Whenever possible, keep your child between family members to avoid the possibility of them brushing against or getting lightly touched by strangers, as this can be stressful for them.
Big meals, burnt food, fragrant candles, babies crying, large groups of people, twinkling lights, oh my! The holidays are permeated with sounds, smells and visuals that can very quickly become too much. A few things you can do to help: tell your child what is happening (where you’re going, what will happen there), allow them to participate in decorating (if that’s something you do) whenever possible, practice meal-time behaviors ahead of time, and bring their favorite food items if they are picky-eaters, work together to find clothing options that are both appropriate and comfortable, but most importantly, be flexible. Know that sometimes you may have to say no to events, or leave early, and that’s okay! The important thing is to make sure you’re spending time as a family, and that it is enjoyable for everyone. Don’t let anyone else make you feel like that’s not enough!
At the end of the day, you’re the person who knows your child best. Be aware of their triggers, practice with them a signal they can give you if they feel everything is suddenly too much, make sure you bring with you a sensory friendly kit! Just know that even with the best laid plans, you may very well still need to make use of that exit strategy, or just outright say no to certain events and experiences.
When that happens, embrace smaller gatherings and new family traditions. Your child will remember the time you spent with them, not the amount of parties and experiences you managed to attend! The most important part is making sure everyone involved can have as much of a stress-free, sensory friendly holiday season as possible!
Interested in some more tips? Here’s how to survive Thanksgiving with an autistic picky eater, 7 tips for a kid with autism to enjoy Thanksgiving, 4 sensory strategies for kids during the holidays and 10 tips on surviving the holidays as an autism family. But more importantly, we would love to hear what has worked for you and your family in the comments! Have a great tip you don’t see here? Let us know!