We all dream of the idyllic holiday we see on social media and in the commercial marketplace, and we hope our experience is serene and joyful. We expect a lot from everyone because a lot is expected from us. When you have an anxious child, or a child with sensory processing differences, the holidays can hold many unpredictable situations and your child may need some extra help. Here are a few of my best tips to get you on your way to a better holiday experience!
- Apply these strategies prior to the potentially stress-inducing event. Applying calming strategies is much more difficult when a meltdown or tantrum is already occurring. Remember, all behavior is language.
- If you are planning a visit to a friend or relative’s home, talk about it in advance and if possible show your child pictures of the person/people/place they might see there.
- Allow your child to choose an object to take along, that makes them feel comforted.
- Use noise canceling or music headphones.
- Allow your child to retreat to a quiet area at the destination.
- Let your host or hostess know your child may need extra support.
- Use this deep breathing technique: Use a small pinwheel and pretend it is a flower. Pretend to “smell” the flower (deep breath through the nose) then blow the pinwheel (audible breath out). There are variations of this exercise depending on your child’s age/ability.
- Let your child know what is expected and what is not. (apply your rules here: For example, tell your child she will not have to try any new foods. She can say “no thank you” and that will be accepted.)
- Holiday gatherings are not the best time to be mastering new skills, and some skills your child has mastered may even regress, such as toilet training. Save yourself some stress and bring a change of clothing and maybe even a diaper or pull-up.
- It is OK not to over-schedule your family during the holidays. Create your own family tradition at home. For example, have a family game night or bake cookies with your children. Saying “no thank you” is acceptable when there are many gathering invitations over the holidays.
If your child’s anxiety is causing your family to miss out too often or is keeping your child from developing age appropriate social or coping skills, talk to your child’s doctor about it. Occupational therapy is one resource that is available to help you and your children cope with today’s sometimes stressful and demanding world.