5 Tips to Help Your Child to Enjoy Holiday Gatherings

The end of the year provides many opportunities for holiday celebrations and gatherings. Although many of us would like to join in on the festivities and raise a glass to the New Year, these celebrations can be sensory nightmares for those in our families who are impacted by sensory challenges. All the noisy exchanges, dazzling holiday lights and enthusiastic social interactions come together in one house and for many, this can be overwhelming. Some families may choose to hire a care giver for their child or simply stay home as a family, but what if your family wants to venture out and enjoy these festivities together?

Prior to accepting an invitation to a holiday celebration, take some time to discuss some of your child’s challenges with the party’s host. Offering a heads-up about your child and his/her challenges will make it easier on all and won’t blind-side a busy host. Mention the ideas and strategies you will be using to ensure that your child enjoys the party as much as everyone else. Your host might have additional suggestions for your child’s success. If you sense your host back-peddling on the invitation, you may choose to reconsider if “this” is the party for your whole family.

Safe Space
Try to have a special safe space or room available for your child to retreat to for a quiet “away-from-the-party” experience.

  • Set the lights low
  • Provide a soft, comfortable place for your child to sit
  • TV or DVD player option to watch favorite movies
  • Remember to have someone check frequently for your child’s safety

Time Limit
Before arriving at the party, create a reasonable time-table for how long you will stay.

  • Use countdown visuals and a timer so your child knows there is an end to this activity
  • If your child is doing well when the time expires, you can consider asking the child if he/she wants to stay longer
  • Or, you may be better off leaving earlier on a positive note

Sensory Survival Kit
You may not have the luxury of a safe space, but a sensory survival kit can be just as handy. Consider some of these items.

Busy Bag
Don’t assume your party host will have activities to entertain your child. Fill a backpack with fun activities.

  • Favorite DVDs
  • A new toy to discover
  • Hand-held game system
  • Cause-effect toy

Picnic Pack
We all love holiday food. Make sure your child has food to enjoy if he/she doesn’t join you at the dinner table.

  • Bring a holiday table-cloth as a picnic blanket
  • Have a fun holiday no-spill drink container and napkins
  • Include several food options and snacks your child enjoys
  • Bring a container of bite-sized desserts
  • Wet wipes for sticky fingers

A little preparation for your child before arriving at a party might make this a successful event for everyone. Keep in mind, you are a guest. If your plans don’t go right, don’t overstay your welcome. Sometimes baby-steps and small time increments are the best ways to start introducing your child to festive social events. Don’t be discouraged if all doesn’t go well on your first or second attempt. If you have any additional suggestions, I’d love to hear your comments below.

Happy Holidays!

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Joanna Keating-Velasco About Joanna Keating-Velasco

Joanna Keating-Velasco has worked with students with various special needs ages 3 through 22 as a Paraprofessional for over twelve years and is currently specializing in adult transition. She has authored two books, A Is for Autism, F Is for Friend and In His Shoes – A Short Journey through Autism. Learn more about Joanna at A is for Autism.




  • http://www.facebook.com/JudyEndow Judy Endow

    Very nice ideas!

  • Joanna Keating-Velasco

    Thanks Judy. Hope you and your family enjoy this year’s holiday season. Take care!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tara.mcclintick.7 Tara McClintick

    Great suggestions! I love the “safe space” retreat idea! My son varies on wanting to hang out alone or in his own quiet space, so I know that is a huge relief for him even at someone else’s house.

  • Joanna Keating-Velasco

    Thanks Tara. It’s these little preparations that can make these kind of social situations livable, if not, enjoyable for these individuals. And, if they are happy, so are the parents and party hosts!

  • http://www.facebook.com/martianne.stanger Martianne Stanger

    Sound advice. The safe space and special food items have made all the difference in our experience.