Updated: Apr 17, 2019
Children from hard places and children with sensory processing disorder thrive in predictable routines and schedules. When the “most wonderful time of the year” approaches, often these routines are disrupted. A large, bustling store or a gregarious family gathering can lead to sensory overload, meltdowns, and lingering disruptive behavior.
By educating yourself and taking some simple precautions, parents can avoid or minimize these meltdowns during the holiday season. Here are five tips to help you navigate Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.
1. View your children through compassion-colored glasses.
The holiday season can bring about profound sadness for children who are away from their family of origin. What feels like a joyous family get together to you, may highlight your child’s loss. In addition, boisterous gatherings, homes full of people, the smells of different foods, and other aspects of the holidays can be overwhelming to a child. Choose to see your child’s behaviors not as willful disobedience but as a biological response to the environment.
Remember that “it is not you against this child. It is you and this child against this child’s history. It is not a personal attack on you.” Dr. Karyn Purvis
2. An ounce of prevention…
Take notes in the weeks and months leading up to the holiday season about what seems to trigger your child’s meltdowns. Then, be prepared in situations that are similar to when you’ve noticed problem behavior in the past. Pack a sensory travel kit (understood.org has some great ideas for this!) full of calming activities such as bubbles, coloring books and crayons, and fidget toys. Don’t forget to have snacks and water handy, and give them out freely. Empower your child before the situation gets dire and needs crisis intervention.
3. Practice makes perfect. If your child is old enough, talk regularly about their triggers. Practice calming and exit strategies. Stay in tune with your child during over-stimulating situations. A quiet suggestion to go outside for a walk or use a weighted blanket and chew some bubble gum could keep a meltdown at bay – but only if you’ve practiced during calm times with your child! A child won’t be able to self-regulate in difficult times if they haven’t practiced it often during quiet times.
4. Communicate with family and friends.
Without dishonoring your child’s history by providing too much information, let your family and friends know that you will have to be flexible during your time together. There may be times when you need to be in a quiet room or on a walk with your child, and they can expect you to return to the party as soon as everyone is able to enjoy it together. Ask family and friends to take into consideration their volume, the amount of music or noise around, how physically close they are coming to your child, and how much they are demanding from the child. Your child may not need to hug every aunt and uncle in the room immediately upon arriving at the party, and you can ask your family and friends to be sensitive to that.
5. Give yourself some grace.
You aren’t perfect, so don’t expect yourself to be! Make sure you are taking time for your own self-care. Maybe you get up an hour early during the holidays and read, pray, or meditate, or maybe you get a babysitter once a week during to have some time to recharge. Whatever works for you, be sure to employ it regularly during the holiday season. Write it in your planner and don’t neglect it. And, when you’ve followed all the tips and used every tool in your toolbox and you’ve STILL lost your temper and been surrounded by chaos, take a step back and forgive yourself for being imperfect. God forgives you, your children will forgive you, and you will get an abundance of chances to reconnect and continue to love and cherish the children you’ve chosen to bring into your home and heart.