Ever notice how sensory meltdowns spike during the holiday season? Itchy costumes, changing routines and noisy crowds can overwhelm the nervous system, especially with SPD or autism. Take 5 steps now to reduce sensory meltdowns and help your child enjoy the wonder of the holidays.
- Prep your child for what’s ahead. Role play, create a story or read about the traditional activities. Some may clash with established rules, like taking candy from strangers. Prepare your child for what will happen, when, where and how. In addition, lay down clear expectations about how to dress, greet people and participate. If your child is anxious about crowds, try helpful filters like noise reduction headphones to avoid sensory meltdowns. Relieve stress by allowing children to express and discuss their concerns. In addition, schedule a sensory session with a favorite swing or trampoline before or after your holiday outing.
- Select and practice what you’ll wear. Factor in your child’s sensory needs before you purchase a costume or dress clothing. If your child is over responsive to fabrics, make sure the clothing is not scratchy, tight or stiff. Wear a compression t-shirt under the clothing to protect from itchy fabric and tags, and provide calming pressure at the joints. Or overlay a Fur Weighted Vest for calming input. To add fun, wear a superhero cape or stretchy Dino Wrap. Pretend to be a police office, fire fighter, EMT or princess with weighted Magical Apparel.
- Use a code word. Establish a word your child can use if he or she feels overwhelmed and needs a break. Honor the code word by removing your child from the stressful situation for a few moments, and discuss coping skills. Giving children some control during activities that may be overstimulating will reduce anxiety and enhance the fun. It may help to use an emotional regulation tool or fidgets to help the child calm down and reorganize.
- Practice the sequence of events. If you’re trick-or-treating, practice first. Walk to the door, say “trick or treat” and put a treat in the bag. Or play some holiday music at dinner or during non-stressful times so it becomes familiar. Small doses of exposure to holiday sounds or crowds can help a child adjust more easily. Look at photo albums before family reunions, and share fun stories about relatives to familiarize the crowd. Play memory games matching names to faces. This will help your children feel more comfortable with people they haven’t seen recently.
- Pack an “emergency sensory meltdown kit.” When you’re away from home, a portable kit for unexpected sensory meltdowns can ease your stress too. It’s like carrying an umbrella when the forecast is uncertain. Select items for your child’s sensory sensitivities to smell, taste, sight, touch, sound or spatial awareness. For example, the kit can include sunglasses; a weighted baseball cap; a change of clothes, such as a hug tee for tactile input; noise cancelling headphones; cold water bottle with gnaw straw, favorite chewy snack; playful putty or fidgets.
Troubleshoot to Reduce Sensory Meltdowns
Knowing when to stop or disengage from festivities can help prevent some sensory overload. Remember: the sights and sounds of holiday traditions can be a wonderful experience when you plan ahead and are prepared to troubleshoot if you see the start of a sensory meltdown. Tell us what works for you and your family so we can all start some new traditions this holiday season!