The holidays are a magical time of year, full of excitement, joy, and tradition. As parents and caregivers, we want to make sure that our children with extra needs can fully participate in and enjoy the holiday season. However, the hustle and bustle of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kawanza can also be overwhelming for these children, with its sensory overload and changes in routine. In this blog post, we will discuss some tips and strategies for supporting your child’s experience of these holidays, so that they can join in on the fun and create special memories with their loved ones.

Understanding Your Child’s Extra Needs During the Festive Season

December is a time of wonder and excitement, but for children with extra needs, it can also be a time of overwhelm and confusion. It’s important for parents and caregivers to understand their child’s specific needs during the festive season to provide the necessary support and ensure a positive experience.

Children with sensory sensitivities, such as those with autism or sensory processing disorder, may find the sensory overload of the holidays overwhelming. The bright lights, loud music, and strong smells can all be triggers for anxiety or meltdowns. It’s important to be mindful of these sensitivities and create a safe and calm environment for your child while also preparing them on how to handle new experiences.

Changes in routine can also be challenging for children with extra needs during the holiday season. This time of year often brings with it a disruption to their daily schedule, whether it’s due to school holidays, family gatherings, or other events and these changes can be difficult for some children to cope with, as they thrive on routine and predictability. Being aware of this and providing structure and routine as much as possible, while also talking to your child through the changes can help alleviate stress and anxiety.

Understanding your child’s specific needs during the festive season is crucial for supporting them and ensuring they have a positive holiday experience. By being mindful of their sensory sensitivities, providing structure and routine, and helping your child navigate new experiences, you can create a holiday season that is enjoyable and inclusive for all. In the following sections, we will explore strategies for guiding your child through new sensations, preparing them for sensory overload, and providing practical strategies for a positive experience during the holidays.

Guiding Your Child in a World of New Sensations – The Ornament Scenario

The holiday season is filled with new sensations and experiences for children, and one scenario that often arises is the temptation to touch the ornaments on the Christmas tree. As parents and caregivers, it’s important to guide your child through this situation in a way that keeps them engaged and excited about the holiday season while also respecting boundaries.

Instead of simply telling your child “no” and taking away their desire to explore, offer them choices. You could say something like, “We can’t touch the ornaments on the tree, we CAN ask Mommy to show us the ornament, or we CAN play with our toys over here.” This empowers your child to feel like they have some control over the situation and encourages them to make a positive choice.

Another strategy is to create a safe and engaging sensory experience for your child. Set up a separate area with sensory-friendly decorations and ornaments that they are allowed to touch and explore. This can help redirect their desire to touch the ornaments on the main tree and give them a sensory outlet that is both fun and appropriate. This area can include a stocking, soft ornaments, unbreakable decorations, and seasonal stuffed animals!

Remember, guiding your child in a world of new sensations is all about finding a balance between setting boundaries and providing engaging alternatives. By offering choices and creating a sensory-friendly environment, you can help your child navigate the holiday season with joy and excitement.

Preparing Your Child for an Overload of Smells, Sights and Sounds

The holiday season is filled with an array of sensory experiences, from the delightful smells of gingerbread and pine, glimmering fire from the candles on the menorah to the twinkling lights and festive music that surround us. While these sensations may bring joy to many, they can be overwhelming for children with extra needs. It’s important to prepare your child for this overload of smells, sights and sounds so that they can fully enjoy the Christmas season.

One way to prepare your child is by gradually introducing them to different sensory experiences. Start by exposing them to small doses of the smells, sights, and sounds associated with the holidays. This can be done by incorporating holiday decorations at home or outside your home, soft holiday music into their daily routine or short visits to a holiday-decorated store. By slowly increasing the intensity and duration of these experiences, your child can build up their tolerance and become more comfortable with the sensory overload.

Another helpful strategy is to create a sensory toolkit for your child. This can include items such as noise-canceling headphones or earplugs to block out loud noises, sunglasses or a visor to reduce bright lights, talking about what to expect to add some predictability, and teaching language to help them advocate for themself within an unpredictable situation. Having these tools readily available can provide your child with a sense of comfort and control when faced with overwhelming sensory stimuli.

Additionally, visual schedules and social stories can be valuable tools in preparing your child for new experiences. Use pictures or drawings to create a visual schedule that outlines the upcoming Christmas activities, allowing your child to mentally prepare for each event. Social stories, on the other hand, can help explain what to expect during holiday gatherings and how to cope with sensory overload. By familiarizing your child with these situations in advance, they will feel more at ease and less anxious.

Remember, every child is unique and may have different sensitivities and preferences. Take the time to observe and listen to your child, adjusting your preparations and strategies accordingly. With the right preparation, your child can navigate the overload of smells, sights, and sounds during the holiday season with confidence and enjoyment.

Practical Strategies to Ensure a Positive Holiday Experience

The holiday season can be overwhelming for children with extra needs, but with the right strategies, you can ensure a positive experience for your child. Here are some practical tips to help you create a joyful and inclusive holiday season:

  1. Prepare your child in advance: Talk to them about the upcoming activities and what to expect. Use visual schedules or social stories to familiarize them with new experiences and reduce anxiety.
  2. Create a calm and sensory-friendly environment: Designate a quiet space where your child can retreat to when they need a break from the hustle and bustle. Provide sensory toys or objects that can help them self-regulate and manage any sensory overload.
  3. Establish routines and structure: While the holiday season often brings disruptions to daily routines, try to maintain a sense of structure for your child. Stick to regular meal times, bedtime routines, and other familiar rituals to provide a sense of stability.
  4. Allow your child to make a choice: By giving your child options, you allow them to have a sense of control over their experiences.
  5. Practice self-care: Take care of yourself so that you can better support your child. Make time for relaxation and self-care activities to manage any stress or overwhelm that may arise during this busy time.
  6. Emphasize the joy of giving: Encourage your child to participate in acts of kindness and generosity, such as making handmade gifts or volunteering. Focusing on giving to others can help foster a sense of joy and connection during the holiday season.

Remember, every child is unique, and it’s important to tailor these strategies to meet your child’s specific needs. By implementing these practical strategies, you can create a positive and inclusive holiday experience for your child with extra needs.

We hope you enjoy the holidays as much as we do!

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