The holidays tend to be an overwhelming time and experience, especially when hosting or traveling to spend the holidays with others. This Thanksgiving, take a moment to de-stress by preparing and planning ahead to help with your loved one’s sensory needs. If you have a child with sensory sensitivities, there are many ways you can help create a more relaxed environment and enjoyable holiday experience.
Notify guests and/or hosts aware of your child’s sensory needs, so substitutes or accommodations can be made. Be sure that they understand your child’s needs and sensitivities and set clear boundaries and guidelines to avoid any mishaps throughout the holiday occasion. This can help create a more inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable.
Have Favorite Items Available
Pack or have your child’s favorite sensory items available at hand to ensure comfort and calmness. Prep a sensory-friendly kit to have handy for your child. Sensory kits can include noise-cancelling headphones, fidgets, weighted lap pads.
Create A Safe Zone/Sensory Friendly Environment
Create a safe space for your child in advance, for when they need to take a sensory break. Try to provide a safe space where you can dim the lights, reduce noise, and give them specific comforts to help keep your child calm such as a sensory kit. Make sure the area has a comfortable seating space or area where your child can relax while taking this break away from the party guests. Keep the safe space undisturbed for your child to have some alone time. You can help keep them entertained during this time with some arts and crafts tools or books. You can also schedule sensory breaks throughout the day to help your child reduce their anxiety and hopefully prevent any meltdowns happening throughout the holiday celebration. If you are traveling and visiting a loved one, make sure to plan ahead and discuss an exit strategy if your child gets overwhelmed and needs to call it a night.
Prepare Sensory Friendly Outfits for Your Child
For many holiday celebrations, people usually dress up in more formal clothing. However, formal clothing may feel very uncomfortable for children with sensory sensitivities. For a sensory friendly Thanksgiving, comfort is key. Allow your child to wear something they feel comfortable in and wouldn’t mind being dressed in for a few hours.
Plan the Menu Ahead of Time
If your child has food sensitivities or preferences, make sure that there will be something they will enjoy at dinnertime. If you are going to someone else’s home, talk to them beforehand about the menu or bring your child’s favorite food.
Provide a Visual Schedule
Many children have a set routine and prefer to follow a predictable schedule, and often, with events and holidays like Thanksgiving, that routine can be messed up. Creating a visual schedule with pictures to show what will occur or when will help provide your child with some relief on what to expect throughout the day. Prepare your child with a set of expectations for the day through a picture schedule, written timeline, checklist, social stories, or conversation; share details about the day’s process, attendees, sights, sounds and smells that your child will encounter.
Be Flexible and Practice Self-Care
Finally, parents and caregivers must remember that flexibility and patience is important when taking care of a child with sensory needs, especially during the holiday season. Holidays can be stressful, so remember it is okay to ask for help when you need it, take breaks when you feel overwhelmed, and remind yourself, you are doing the best you can.
The holiday season can be overwhelming for some children with sensory needs. While there is a lot of excitement in the air and sometimes a bit of stress, remember to keep in mind the most important aspect of all these holiday celebrations – spending time together with your family and loved ones.