While the holidays can be a fun and joyful time, the changes in routines, as well as the often overwhelming sights, sounds and expectations can spell M-E-L-T-D-O-W-N for many children (and their parents!).

Here are some tips for lessening the stress of the holidays on the whole family.

  1. Remember the Importance of Routines
    Often routines get forgotten or simply adjusted over the holidays. Many children with support needs struggle with such change. As a result, many become disorganized and overstimulated as they try to cope with changes and new experiences that they have not anticipated. Try as much as possible to keep at least two predictable routines (morning and night) every day during the winter break to encourage stability and order in your child’s life.

    Tips for establishing routines:

    • Use a first/then board, or picture schedules with set timelines to help your child have some predictability in their day. The tasks should be presented with a clear beginning and end.
    • Give your child a 5-minute warning when an activity is almost done so that they can prepare for it. Timers can be helpful with transitions to indicate when an activity is finished.
  1. Set up Success When You Can
    The holiday season is not the time to provide new challenges for your child. Instead, acknowledge the places/times/events that your child struggles with, and look for alternative activities. Here are some tips:

    Before a gathering or activity:

    • Decide whether visiting others’ homes or hosting events at your home would make the best sense. The more familiarity your child has, the better.
    • Don’t plan too much in one day. If you must go out to a social event, that should be the only one that day.
    • Each morning, share that day’s picture schedule with the children, and only that day’s schedule. Don’t overwhelm them with future days and activities; stay day by day. Small portable schedules work well to take along to activities.
    • Find some way that your child can contribute and make the holiday their own. Give them suggestions and work together on whatever the child chooses, such as helping decorate, helping make the food, setting the table, etc.
    • Try to avoid taking your child to busy or crowded places, such as the mall or holiday gatherings. Crowds are often tough for children with support needs, especially if they are feeling tired or hungry. If you need to go out, bring snacks and fidget toys with you.
    • Plan to leave an event/visit before your child may have a meltdown. It might mean planning an ‘end’ time to an activity in addition to the usual start time.
    • When having company, allow your child to choose toys to put away that they do not have to share, and instead help them choose toys they’re comfortable letting others play with.
    • If your child has sensory sensitivities, keep clothes soft and comfortable. A great set of Christmas jammies works for every occasion!

    During a Gathering or Activity:

    • Don’t force your child to say hello or embrace others. A simple wave will do just fine!
    • If playing music in the background of social events, choose calm and quiet tones.
    • Build in time for your child to relax and decompress. Scheduled quiet time can help prevent sensory overload and agitation.
    • Whether at someone else’s home or your own, establish a “safe space” for your child so that they can retreat and be alone, if desired.
    • Try to serve or bring some of your child’s favourite foods at every meal, so that if they don’t like what is being served they are still able to eat.

Looking for a comfortable, festive activity for children with sensory challenges this holiday season? Take a drive to see the best local light displays. Check out John Christmas, Realtor’s blog for the tour list here.