The word Holiday alone brings up a wide variety of emotions. For some, feelings of joy, cheer, peace, and relaxation fill their bodies. For others, feelings of nervousness, anxiety, or stress may begin to bubble up. Can you imagine how sensory kids might experience holiday dinners?
Now, lets think about the kids attending these large family get-togethers. The excitement of seeing family and playing with cousins brings out lots of positive emotions. However, for some of our sensory kids, we may see signs of anxiety, unease, and nervousness. Even with excitement, sensory kiddos may have trouble regulating this emotion in an appropriate way.
This can result in meltdowns, peer or sibling conflict, and inability to remain seated for that family dinner everyone has been planning. Preparation can be a key support in success for this holiday season.
Prepare with Sensory Strategies for Holiday Dinners
Create Social Stories
Preparing your child for the stresses of the holiday and the changes in their routine through a social story can be beneficial. Your child may benefit from adding strategies to address holiday stressors or role playing to make an appropriate request to leave the table. Create a social story using the Social Story Creator app and weave in some of these strategies into your story. Check out these ready to go, downloadable, holiday social stories.
Bees Breathing can help to calm and block out extra noise. Take an inhale through your nose, plug your ears, and quietly hum. Ear plugs are a wonderful solution too!
Try Chair Push and Pulls. Place your hands on the sides of your chair and push your body up and hold for 10 seconds. Switch your hands to pull on the seat of the chair for 10 seconds.
Need a Break?
Remind your child to politely ask to leave the table if they are needing a break from the noise. Let them know you will go with them and help them get back to ‘just right’
Hand Push and Pulls may be helpful if your child is having the desire to touch items at the dinner table. Place hands palms together and push for 10 seconds. Lock fingers together and pull for 10 seconds. A fidget toy may also be helpful during this time.
Implement Your Sensory Diet for Holiday Dinners
Remembering your sensory diet activities and incorporating them prior to heading to the relatives home or having guests arrive can help organize your child’s nervous and sensory systems prior to the event. Sensory diets are child specific so consult with your Occupational Therapist about good activities for your child. Here are a couple of go-to ideas:
Have your child move about your house with holiday themed animal walks; reindeer, polar bear, or turkey.
Telling the story of the holiday (Thanksgiving and Christmas) through yoga poses can help get out energy, calm, and get your child into the holiday spirit. Think boat pose for the Santa Maria or tree pose for candy canes. Be creative!
Change Up the Environment for Holiday Dinners
Holiday dinner tables can get loud and encompass a slew of energy and emotion. Think about the environment for your child: lighting, music, several people talking at once, table filled with new foods & smells, as well as possibly a different dining table all together. There is a lot of sensory input going on here and this may be too much for your child to process.
Consider having a children’s table where they have less food on the table and are able to sit in a chair sized for them with their feet grounding them to the floor providing support. Place the table in an area with less noise and lower lighting. If this means the table may be placed away from the adult table, consider having an older cousin or appointed relatives take shifts hanging out at the kids table to support the kids as needed.
Adult Table Ideas
If you are hoping to have your child at the table with the adults, here are a few supports that may help.
Adjust their seating arrangement near quiet adults.
Place a box, books or foot stool below their feet to provide a sense of grounding versus dangling feet.
Provide coloring pages or fidgets for them to work on allowing them to tune out extra sensory input (noise, light, movement)
If the noise is bothersome allow the use of noise cancelling headphones.
Happy Holidays sensory families! Remember, as a sensory parent to keep your self calm and happy through your own sensory diet activities. As an occupational therapist and Yoga instructor, I will be preparing for family after a good Yoga class and some time in my Lycra swing.