Watch that Diet over the Holidays – not just the FOOD diet, but also your child’s SENSORY DIET…. Here are some tips to avoid sensory overload for your child when exposed to all of the lights, decorations, sounds, smells, and tastes of the Holidays to make it more tolerable and even FUN!
Visual: Christmas lights can be great for increasing visual attention and calming your child. However, if your child looks at everything, all of the time and becomes over-stimulated by things he/she sees, keep decorations and bright lights to a minimum. You can designate one room in your home as the “holiday room” that your child can easily avoid, where you can go “deck the halls” more fully. In the main living areas of your home, you can have more subtle decorations such as a tree with one color of lights and a few colored ornaments. Place the tree with the multi-colored lights and hodgepodge of family favorite ornaments in the “holiday room”.
- Avoid hanging lots of garland or tinsel
- Use blinking lights cautiously. If a child stares for long periods of time at the blinking lights, put the lights in the “on” mode.
- Avoid over-decorating surfaces; remove one “everyday” decoration for every holiday one you put out.
- Do not expect a child to be able to keep “hands off” decorations. Most children do not have the impulse control until they are DEVELOPMENTALLY over age 7 years. Place special items on shelves the child can’t reach.
Auditory/Hearing: Be aware of decorations that “turn on” when you walk by them. Avoid them except in the “holiday” room or keep them turned off, until you can warn your child of the sound the decoration will make just before turning it “on”. If your child reacts negatively to the sound, don’t make him/her try to get “used to it.” Just keep it off in their presence and maybe try again next year.
- Avoid bell ringers and talking holiday displays, unless they are pleasurable for your child.
- Avoid constant Christmas music in the background. Play instrumental music versus music with singing whenever possible. Your child will need more quiet at home when surrounded by extra noise everywhere else.
- Have earplugs available if your child can wear them for holiday gatherings when all the children are running around and adults are talking. If not, allow your child some quiet time in a designated room in your own home or ask your relatives to have a room designated as the ‘”quiet room” for your child away from the crowd. Have FAMILIAR toys, blanket, etc. available for calming or a new toy that is calming, not stimulating. This quiet area should be separate from any “time out” area for misbehaving children.
Smell: Be aware of smells that are calming for your child and those that seem to “set them off”. Have your child smell an unlit candle and see if they like it before actually lighting it and filling the air with that smell. Vanilla and lavender will be more calming than pine or citrus scents. Spice smells can be calming, but are more often stimulating, so be aware of your child’s reaction to the baking pumpkin pie or hot spiced cider on the stove. If the extra smells are unavoidable and seem to have a negative effect, keep fans running and crack windows for fresh air to circulate.
- Avoid real Christmas trees and garland, if your child can’t tolerate the smell of a lit pine candle.
- Avoid candle stores, home décor stores, etc. which may have strong odors.
Oral: The Holiday season frequently means lots of new foods in your home and places you may visit. If your child is a “picky eater”, you can encourage him/her to try a taste of a new food but be sure to have alternative foods that you know your child enjoys. Be sure to pack some of these “safe” foods that your child will eat if you will be traveling to other places.
Touch: Christmas decorations and holiday finger foods can offer great opportunities for tactile exploration, but can also be overwhelming. Encourage your child to help decorate a “prickly” tree or the sugar cookies with icing, but if they fear getting poked or messy, don’t force the issue and just let them enjoy the end product.
- Avoid Christmas displays within “arms reach”. Kids can’t help but touch.
- Provide a “feely” bag with 2-3 favorite tactile balls, strand of beads or calming toy in a fanny pack to keep their hands busy while you are shopping. Be sure to mark your items with a permanent marker so that you know nothing “extra” accidentally gets in the bag and you can “prove ownership if asked.