Holiday lights, the scents of the season, family hugs, and cheers of joy… can all lead to a sensory integration nightmare for many of our kids.
So instead of “grinching out” on your kids if they become irritable during the holidays, check out these eight tips (one for each sense) which can help our kids feel a bit more regulated during this festive season.
The Visual Sense
Be mindful of how some of our kids process lighting in their environments. Holiday lights and colors can be overwhelming for some kids. Try equipping them with a baseball cap to help them block out flashing or bright lights that may cause them to feel dysregulated. A warmly lit corner using simply a lamp can do wonders in calming the nervous system.
The Auditory Sense
It can be difficult to focus with holiday music playing in the background, family members constantly talking, kids playing loudly with new toys, and the many other sounds associated with large gatherings of people. If your kiddo is sensitive to sounds, try giving them a pair of noise-canceling headphones so that they can organize their thoughts when in noisy environments.
The Touch or Tactile Sense
Sure, it’s nice to dress up in matching holiday family garments, but is it really worth it if your kiddos will be squirming, scratching, and tugging at their festive ‘fits? Instead, encourage them to put on what they feel most comfortable in to minimize cries of discomfort.
Also, give them permission to greet family members with a fist pump or high-five to avoid endless hugs and kisses from family if they don’t like their bodies being touched.
Finally, a weighted blanket that your kids can access at any time can be a game-changer when traveling!
The Interoceptive Sense
The interoceptive sense is our internal body sensations. Remember that less can be more. Kids can become very irritated and anxious if they are overscheduled with holiday plans. Instead of back-to-back holiday events, think about attending one main event. Be sure to include plenty of time to transition and take much-needed breaks for relaxation.
The Gustatory Sense
If visiting family for a holiday meal, try packing some of your child’s favorite go-to snacks. Holiday dishes can be a bit overwhelming for some of our kids who have very strong reactions to certain food tastes and textures.
The Olfactory Sense
Get some fresh air. Visiting family during the holidays may also bring the smells of pine needles, gingerbread, and the unique concoction of smells that naturally exude from the homes of our friends and family! Make sure your kiddo has plenty of opportunities to get fresh air if they feel smothered by certain smells.
The Proprioceptive Sense
The proprioception sense helps our kids understand where their bodies are in space and how much energy or force they need to use to complete tasks. For example, how much pressure do we use when hugging a family member who may be struggling with chronic pain? Should we set a glass serving dish down gently or just allow the dish to slam down onto the dinner table? You can help your kids develop their proprioceptive sense by role-playing scenarios that involve how to be mindful of how their bodies interact with objects and people around them.
The Vestibular Sense
Is your child rocking back and forth in the dining room chair? Are they sitting upside-down on the couch disturbing your holiday guests? They may be trying to regulate their vestibular system, which is our sense of balance and spatial orientation. Get them to a nearby playground or the backyard so that they can slide, spin, and swing themselves back into a regulated state of being.
Whoa! Who would have known how powerful it can be to meet the sensory needs of our kids? So, instead of immediately correcting behavior this year, let’s help our kids understand what their bodies are trying to communicate to them.
About the Author
Erica Whitfield is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who has a Masters in Counseling Psychology and over 10 years of experience working with children and adolescents. She is the Founder of Positive Development, LLC, a counseling practice for youth located in Jacksonville, Florida. Erica combines expressive therapies using art, music, physical movement and writing, with evidenced-based therapeutic modalities such as CBT, solution-focused and positive psychology approaches to help children and adolescents process past trauma, transition during difficult life adjustments, form healthier relationships, perform better in school and work through self-harming behaviors. She specializes in providing strengths-based counseling and has helped hundreds of youth unleash their capabilities, transform obstacles into opportunities and find healthy ways to express their energy and creativity.