The holidays can be a busy and overwhelming season full of sensory triggers for sensitive children. Flashing lights, excited peers and loud music are just some of the sensory changes that make the holiday season more distinct from the rest of the year. Some children may be very sensitive to them and can become easily overloaded leading to increased anxiety and sensory meltdowns.
Children who struggle with sensory processing disorder or sensory sensitivities may also find it difficult to fit in socially or process what is going on around them. That coupled with changes in schedules and crowded environments can turn what is supposed to be a season of merriment into a challenging time. By minimizing sensory triggers and acclimating your holiday traditions to your child, you can ensure a joyful time for the whole family. Some of the most common holiday triggers to consider are:
The traditional “always-on” holiday lighting has been replaced by flashing holiday lights and light show projectors. This constant movement of light can disorient a child with sensory sensitivities. Consider bringing a sleeping mask to holiday events in case your child needs a break from the flash. At home, allow children to help you decorate for the holidays so they are involved in the changes that take place in their home environment.
Holiday Parties and Loud Music
With the holidays comes party season both at home and at school. The volume of music and multiple groups of people talking over each other in enclosed living rooms and small classroom environments could trigger kids with auditory sensitivities. One of the best and easiest solutions is to provide small earplugs or noise canceling headphones. If that doesn't work, don’t be afraid to decline party invitations and instead consider planning a more intimate holiday outing for your child and a friend.
For sensitive kids who need to wear dress clothes for events and pictures, bring along some soft clothes for them to change into as soon as possible. Be prepared by knowing your child's specific limitations and how you will handle them if the need arises. Don't wait for the meltdown to begin.
Holiday Treats and Aromas
One of the most commonly overlooked causes of a sensory meltdown is food. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the amazing aromas that dance around during the holidays from pumpkin spice to peppermint. These foods may also have chemicals that can result in severe behavioral triggers, making your child even less tolerant of sensory stimulation. You may find that your child will benefit from simple diet changes and avoiding trigger foods like dairy, gluten, and artificial dyes.
The holiday season doesn’t have to be a stressful time of year for a child with sensory sensitivities. We hope these tips help your whole family enjoy this fun time of year.
For over a decade, we’ve helped over 40,000 children improve the critical skills needed to create a brighter path for their future. Our team can help determine why your child struggles, then help equip them to better handle their own challenges, so they can enjoy and thrive in family gatherings, classrooms, social events, and more. If you're concerned that your child is not meeting social or behavioral milestones or is struggling socially or behaviorally, contact us online to learn more about how the Brain Balance Program can help. You can also view the research and results of the program on the website.