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Holiday traditions provide meaning through ritual and practice. For young people with sensory processing disorder, ADD, and other learning disorders that result in behavioral challenges, holiday celebrations can be overwhelming.

To create new holiday traditions, include everyone in the family in holiday planning and look for ways to add new customs that complement and honor the traditions that are already in place.

Why Do Holiday Traditions Cause Family Stress?

There are many reasons why winter holidays are considered to be a very stressful time for families. Changes to schedule, changes to diet, changes in the way the environment looks and sounds, changes even in the way people speak and behave - all of these changes are overwhelming - especially for children with sensory processing disorder.

The bright lights, louder music, jingling bells and large crowds transform the familiar shopping center, and even the family living room into situations of sensory overload that can leave a child feeling confused, lost and panicked.

The overall holiday excitement might be more the culprit than your personal holiday traditions, but welcoming new holiday traditions at home will help your child to cope with and to enjoy the winter holiday.

Making Adjustments to Traditions to Help Your Child Enjoy the Holiday

Incorporate some of the following strategies to make your holiday traditions new and enjoyable for a child with behavioral issues:

  • Keep your child’s sleep routine as regular as possible. Has late night carolling been a family tradition? Perhaps a new tradition of daytime carolling will be even more fulfilling.
  • Be cautious when changing the look of your home for the holiday. Have your child help with decorating, making sure they are familiar with each item and they are fully participating in the process of changing the look of the home. Breakable decorations should be out of reach.
  • Review holiday expectations for behavior before the holiday arrives. Repeat expectations before each special event.
  • Holiday music and holiday lights can cause sensory distress. Consider new traditions that include soft, warm, non-twinkling lights and lower the volume on holiday tunes.
  • Watch for early warning signs of exhaustion and be prepared to end visits or activities earlier if necessary. Some physical signs might include flushed cheeks, over-excitement, unusual eye contact or unusual body language.

Children with sensory processing disorder benefit so much from routine that even changes that are obviously positive can cause severe anxiety. Introduce each ‘new’ twist on holiday traditions with patience. Know that repetition is key to successfully implementing changes.

Our holiday traditions have a strong impact on how we define ourselves and how we situate ourselves in the context of our community. Participating in holiday traditions, both new and old, is essential to positive self image and healthy self esteem of any child with social or behavioral issues.

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