Christmas is the complete sensory experience, that’s a delicious affair for some but can be paralysing for those children who easily go into sensory overload and meltdown. As a Mum of four unique, individual, sensitives, I have had my fair share of sensory Christmas issues to deal with. I’ll share some of the things that have helped me cope with the 12 days of Christmas sensory overload and make it through the holidays and back into school at the other end.
The best advice I can give is to plan, plan and plan some more and then lower your expectations! This advice is not just for sensory sensitive children but can help with children of all ages who may be overwhelmed by all Christmas has to offer.
#1. Get Outside Daily
Get outside into nature every day. With the days so short and dark and loads of meeting up with cousins and friends, the day can run away and your child doesn’t get any exercise or fresh air. In my opinion, MOVEMENT is the MOST important decompression tool for sensitive children.
Schedule an hour for every day of the holidays, where you go to a green space, a forest, the seashore, any natural environment to decompress. Yes, do it now, decide what part of the day works best and put a reminder in your phone. Being in nature is proven to have a calming effect on the amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain.
#2. Dog Walking
If you don’t have a dog try to borrow a neighbours or friends dog and commit to walking the dog every morning during the holidays with your child. The dog owner will be delighted to have one walk done and animals are also a great decompression aid for sensitive children. Your little darling will love the responsibility of walking the dog, not so much picking up the poop, but you can’t win ’em all!
#3. One Activity a Day
Schedule only ONE activity per day. A party in the cousins, followed by a trip to the Panto is just looking for trouble and when Widow Twinkie starts shouting “HE’S BEHIND YOU” you’ll be wrestling an octopus in the aisle of the theatre with all eyes on you, thinking you’re part of the act! Memories of this very scenario, at a production of Annie, are flooding back…it’s a hard knock life!
You May Also Enjoy: Awesome Sensory Play Environments for Kids in Ireland
#4. Down Time
Have some down days, where you do nothing except the nature trip and the dog walk.
Schedule those down days for a day after a party. Be aware that if your sensory seeking disco dancer has partied ’til late, they will be the Grinch the next day. Sensitive children are particularly vulnerable to the upset of disrupted bedtimes.
#6. Secret Snacking!
Same goes for the day after they have eaten 4 selection boxes and 6 packets of smoky bacon crisps. Obviously the real advice is, try not to let that happen, but realistically, they will be surrounded by all manner of goodies that send them stellar and there will be times when, God forbid, you might be enjoying yourself and you miss the haul of selection boxes that your kind aunt (that they won’t kiss) has brought.
It’s inevitable. Be prepared to manage the fall-out in the garden and go home if you have to. Remember, you LOWERED your expectations at the start of the holidays!
#7. Clothing Battles
Chose your battles and if what they wear doesn’t bother you too much, this is a battle best lost. Christmas clothes are traditionally fancy, with net skirts and patents shoes, shirts with collars and real trousers.
Sensitive children, will have sets of clothes that you know they are happy with, let them wear them and if they are amenable to new clothes, have them similar to the ones they like (Leggings, tracksuit bottoms, tight t-shirts) and remember to cut the tags off all of the waistbands and collars (once you know they fit!).
#8. The Santa Visit
Many Santa experiences now offer a sensory day, where the lights are on, music is low and children can move around as they like. This is a super idea for children with more severe sensory needs.
For the majority of sensitive kids a regular Santa visit with their siblings or cousins is ideal if it’s managed well. Sensitive kids are often left out because of their quirks and it is important to have them included as much as possible.
#9. Avoid Sweet Treats Before Santa Visit
This is the time when you really have to avoid the chocolate, until after the visit. A sensory seeking child will be likely to crash into Santa and jump up and down on his knee and a sensory avoider will be in overwhelm, just walking past the elves and candy canes, so by the time they reach Santa they’re in full shrieking meltdown. This doesn’t do them any favours with their friends or siblings.
Go as early as you can manage, avoid queuing where possible, have plenty of crackers & water on hand and explain to your child that they don’t have to sit on Santa’s knee if they don’t want to. Give them something that they like to hold for sensory input. I had an awkward experience in Disneyland where my touchy feely child, was stroking a not too impressed Mickey Mouse!
#10. Picky Eaters
Anyone familiar with these picky eaters will know not to try to feed them food they don’t like. Don’t expect them to eat much of the Christmas dinner, most of it is unfamiliar in the every day. Have a familiar dish to hand and lower your expectations. Christmas Day is not the time to encourage anyone to try new food. Texture is very important. Some like it crunchy, some like it smooth, some warm, some cold. Funny enough, they all seem to like chocolate!
When all else fails, retreat. That’s my advice to you! Christmas can be overwhelming for all of us and boy, these guys know how to push our buttons. There’s scientific evidence that indulging yourself in a ‘F*** it’ moment reduces pain and stress. Retreat to the garden shed or to a safe pillow and let rip. You’ll return all the better for it!
When it’s all going well, move, when it’s falling apart, move. Get that body moving any time of the day or night. Sitting down endlessly is the enemy.
Just Dance is a super game for consoles to get everyone moving if you’re stuck inside. Pictionary or charades will get them wildly gesticulating. Floor pianos, following music & movement routines on Youtube, making slime, and when YOU need to sit down, put them in the bath or send them to Grannies (if you have a Granny).
Using movement every day will make a difference, I promise. You might even find yourself telling other parents what a difference it made! And our programme for schools, SIMPLE Movement is perfect for classes to get active.
Have yourself a very merry Christmas. With my easy to implement tips, you may find it’s the best Christmas ever!
Have you any tips on coping with sensory overload this Christmas? Please share them with us in the comments box below.