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Sensory Tips for a Happy Holiday

December 9, 2015

The holiday season can be a joyous one, but it can also be very overwhelming. For all of us. As adults, there are so many things for us to plan and get done, but we also sometimes have good strategies to help us from getting overwhelmed so we can get everything done when we need to. As a child with sensory struggles, these strategies may be non-existent. The noise of all of the kids getting together once a year, the changes in routine, and the unexpected may be too much for a child with these difficulties. Here are some quick tips and tricks to help everyone get through the holiday season with a smile.

Get involved in the preparations

The more that you are a part of the process, the easier it is to participate in the final product. Get your child involved with planning for what is going to happen, and have them help prepare! This could be crafts to celebrate the holidays or small more controlled events prior to the big family gatherings.

Meal preparation and cooking

Food preparation, cooking, and mealtime are sensory rich activities. Involve your child as much as possible during the holidays for some sneaky “heavy work”, messy play, and becoming familiar with holiday foods. Ask for help with pouring, mixing, measuring, and decorating. Having your child gather ingredients, write a grocery list, and locate familiar items in the store are also great ways to involve your child. Even if going to someone else’s house for the holiday, encourage your child to bring a small dish that they helped to make.

Reduce the element of surprise

Planning helps everyone keep calm and collected. Go over plans with your child, and work together to come up with ways that they and/or you can help during the large events. If you can work out a signal for each other that means your child is stressed, or if she/he knows a place that they can go to “regroup” prior to the event, it will help everyone enjoy the events.

The calm before the storm

Engage your child in their preferred, calming sensory diet activities BEFORE leaving to go to holiday parties or before the party comes to you. Jumping on a mini-trampoline, wall push-ups, animal walks, swinging, deep breathing, tactile bin play, etc. Preparing your child’s brain and body ahead of time will be beneficial for everyone, giving them their best potential for the hectic day. Movement breaks and calming strategies should also be sprinkled through the day to maintain optimal regulation.

Keep your child happy

You know your child better than anyone! You know what they need and how to help them out. This may be a great time to do some education to family and friends about your child and their special needs. If your child needs to do 10 wall push-ups prior to dinner so they can attend better, or they need to stand instead of sit so they are less disruptive, go for it!


When shopping during the holidays, it may be best to shop when stores are less crowded or shop online. If a child must go with you to the store, planning ahead and bringing along sensory “tools” like earplugs, gum, fidgets, or a hat/hoodie will help ease the over-stimulation. Going with a plan in mind or a short list that the child can help cross off may also help. This season is busy and overwhelming for anyone, so knowing the goal and having an end in sight may ease the stress for everyone.

Stay on schedule

During any holiday break, it is easy to get off schedule and have more flexible routines. However, try to stick to the typical schedule, especially bedtime and wake-up routines. Not only can a child’s sleep-wake cycle become disrupted, but this also affects self-regulation. A child is more able to self-manage and regulate their state of arousal when routines, schedules, and sleep/rest are consistent.

Remember what’s important

At the end of the day, remember that you and your child are more important than any holiday “tradition” or ritual that only happens one time a year. Take a deep breath, remember what matters most, and enjoy the season!

Adapted from:
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