Holiday time brings good cheer to our hearts while seasonal music chimes in our ears, and our eyes dart around following sparkling lights all the while we are inhaling aromatic blends cinnamon & pine cones. Depending on your take, you can enjoy getting wrapped up in jingle bells, or feel trapped in a bell tower suffocating from spicy air.
If you are parent of a child who is challenged with social anxiety and/or sensory processing disorder, this time of year will be more difficult than most. The sensory sensitive child or young adult, processes glittering lights and overly scented holidays scents as offensive and uncomfortable. Anxiety will be noticeably heightened with an increased feeling of instability. The comfort and reliability on routine daily schedules are now disrupted and shuffled about leading to feelings of chaos and instability.
To avoid public meltdowns (yours and theirs), set yourself and your child up for authentic and realistic celebrations. The peddled manufactured holiday’s scenes depicted on television and holiday cards usually result in disappointment and unmet expectations. So get real about your family’s authentic holiday celebrations.
As a parent, guest or a hostess, everyone will be taking their lead from you. You are the stabilizing key factor to sustain order for you, your child(ren) and the rest of your family.
The following tips will help set the groundwork for your family’s holiday best.
- First and foremost show compassion and be aware that those with social anxiety and sensory processing issues are in a fearful state, as opposed to one of excitement and stimuli.
- Engage your child to express his/her anxiety. Validate your child’s feelings with “Yes, you seem scared. What are you worried about?” Be an active listener, demonstrate understanding and briefly discuss your child’s emotions and fears.
- Strategize with prompts along with your child to problem solve. Ask your child to pick the solution that he or she thinks would work best.
- Practice what you preach. Children take their direction and reactions from you, so keep cool.
- Holiday events require different daily behaviors for us all. But for a child who struggles with social insecurities and sensory sensitivities, plan ahead. Coach your child the day before and day of with written cue cards. Role play anticipated scenarios and responses.
- Celebrate your child’s effort and good behavior. Create a gift certificate stating the reward along with the reason for earning it.
- Plan with your child permission for a quiet break. Designate a quiet place at home or at the event venue where they can safely take a quiet break. Identify a relative or other person they can go to for a short break away from the crowd.
- Kindly remind your family that your child wrestles with sensitivity and social issues and might not behave or react in traditional ways.
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