Surviving the holidays with an SPD child
Hi everyone! Welcome back to another episode. This one is all about the holidays. No matter which holiday you celebrate, most schools offer some kind of extended winter break around this time of year, and with that comes with a lot of opportunities for dysregulation… yay!
So today I want to give you some tips to help curb some of that.
Let me start off by just pointing out that the main reason why the holidays are so hard for kids, and as we focus here on this podcast, for our neurodivergent kids, is that it changes routines.
Remember, our kids with SPD and other neurodivergent kids love, and mostly depend on, some sort of familiar routine.
We all do depend on some form of routine right? Like taco Tuesdays or always doing laundry on Sundays… there are routines that just make life easier and flow for us.
Kids with SPD rely on small, daily routines to take away some of that cognitive energy they have to spend on processing sensory input. With changes in routine comes extra cognitive energy to spend on processing those changes…. And when they have to direct more cognitive energy on that, it leaves even less energy for the brain to focus on things like emotional regulation, participating in conversations or impulse control.
So the biggest culprit around the holidays is the change in routines.
You have school routines changing: there’s early dismissal days, holiday parties at school, holiday programs to participate in, and then of course the actual vacation days without school.
At home, you have family visiting, later bed times, different foods, extra treats, different schedules for mom and dad.
A lot of things changing with routines and yes, they’re usually fun and exciting changes…. But they can still most definitely impact your child’s regulation.
Tips for staying regulated around the holidays
- First, try to offer some sort of structured routine or schedule even on days off (use visual schedules, check lists or as simple as letting them know the plan in advance) but make sure you schedule in some free play/preferred activities. Offering structure and a schedule on days off doesn’t necessarily mean fill their days with chores or Pinterest activities, but just letting them know what to expect in their day. In a full-day schedule you’d include everything from nap times, rest breaks, meals, outdoor play, book time, etc.
- My second tip is one of those- do as I say not as I do things. And that’s to try to keep meals and snacks at the same pace they are offered at school, or at least stick to a consistent structure. I know… I literally throw a snack at my daughter every time I need some quiet time, but believe me… especially if you have a picky eater, grazing on snacks throughout the day won’t do you any favors at home, and it will also make it hard when they transition back to school when they don’t have the opportunity to just graze all day.
- Third: this is true at any time of the year, but especially during these high energy/dysregulating times, be proactive with regulation strategies, whether that’s taking deep breaths, doing heavy work activities, sensory bins. Whatever it is that regulates your child, make sure you create opportunities for that regularly throughout their days during the break. One way I like to do this that makes it fun (and also helps remind myself of doing it) is to create those paper chains (where you cut out strips and link them together) one paper per day and use it as a countdown chain to Christmas (or whatever you celebrate, or even an upcoming trip, etc). You write down an activity (like blow bubbles) on each strip and then everyday your child opens one of the links and you do that activity. I did this last year on December 1st through December 24th and each strip had either a heavy work activity (like wall pushes), deep breathing activities or a social emotional challenge question like “what’s something that helps you feel calm?”
- Fourth- this is for those of you who are doing holiday events… Use this time to prepare your child for any big holiday events- going to grandma’s house or that super fancy aunt’s house who has all white furniture and extremely breakable objects everywhere. Create social stories that help your child know what to expect and how they should behave in those environments. You should even be using social stories or pictures/videos to prepare them for relatives they might meet, food they might see, sounds they might hear, etc. Do this often throughout the time in the holidays, not just the day before.
Day-of tips for holiday parties
These last few tips I have are more about the day of holiday parties, Christmas morning, or other “big” holiday events.
- My first tip, is if you are a traditional Christmas family…. I would highly consider your plan for opening gifts. I actually like how Hanukkah spreads gifts out over a period of days (is it 8 days?). I kind of like that idea… way less overstimulating. Remember- even the EXCITING, FUN, happy things your child might absolutely LOVE could still cause meltdowns and dysregulation. I always intend to spread out gifts, but end up giving her way too much at once because I figure, “oh, she’ll be fine”, and it usually ends in some sort of meltdown from overload.
- Now, on days the days of actual holiday parties/events, the best thing you can do to set your child up for regulation success is to make sure you serve the most familiar/safe meals for your child before the event (and even bring some if you have to if you have an extremely picky eater). Why? Because if you have a picky eater and the morning of the family holiday dinner where there will be lots of sounds, smells, cheek pinching, grandma perfume, singing, clapping, all of it… Then you need their sensory cup to have enough room to tolerate that. If you decide to serve them a new flavored yogurt or scrambled eggs instead of fried eggs that morning because you’re feeling saucy… then that already adds an extra sensory challenge for them at home that they now have to add to their sensory burden throughout the day. Keep things as safe and familiar as possible as you get closer to those big, exciting events.
- Piggy backing off of that, if you have a clothing sensitive child, skip those crunchy jeans and stuffy collared shirts. Can you opt for leggings, or dark colored pants that work for your child? Can you get them to wear those clothes just for a picture but then have their comfy clothes ready to change in to?
Just always keep in mind your child’s sensory cup. If they have a small sensory cup (they get overstimulated easily) make sure the days/hours leading up to a big holiday event that you are keeping their cup managed and not too full. You need to basically leave room in their cup to anticipate it being full from all the excitement. If you have a child with a large sensory cup (they love a lot of sensory input) find ways to make the cup a little fuller throughout the day/days before the holiday stuff so that they aren’t having a ton of seeking behaviors.
This again is when being proactive comes into play… for any kind of sensory profile your child has.
Alright! Hope this is helpful. Hope you can make the most of these tips in the last few weeks before the main event!
I’ll be back next week! Thanks for being here.
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