The end of the year brings with it a bombardment of change and great anxiety for a lot of children. There are school concerts, Christmas decorations, holiday routines, and Christmas. It is exhausting for most of us to even think about, but it can be completely overwhelming for a child with anxiety, Autism or sensory processing difficulties.
The stress of it all can build up for a child. They may not react straight away, but it can show up several days later as difficult behaviour. This behaviour is easy to label as “naughty” or “defiant” but this time of year can just so overwhelming that we need to take into account the impact it can have on our little people. There are things we can do to make it bearable or hopefully enjoyable for them;
A few things to keep in mind:
1- If you have lights, pick lights that stay on, or have settings such that you can have them blink from time to time, but be set to be consistently on the rest of the time.
2- Some tinsel is nice, but if you have bright lights aimed around or aimed at the tree, these and other decorations can give off blinding little flashes that you and I might not think much about but can get very frustrating. If you notice your child ‘retreating’ from the room or finding another favourable spot, it may be to lessen glare.
3- Background music is best kept in the background, if at all. That means, keep it quiet. If you can make out the words and sing along, it might be too loud for your little one. Remember, your children might not have a ‘background’ setting when it comes to their senses. That means that what you barely notice, they hear perfectly, and they are having to battle that music while trying to listen to you. If they don’t listen to you, it might just be that they don’t actually hear you
4- Get your children to help with decorations. Getting them involved is a wonderful way of helping them cope with decorations being there. They feel a huge sense of pride, but also comfort, in knowing that the decorations are there because they put them there. They remain ‘in control’ of their space.
5- For the holiday period in general, scheduling in advance, and letting your child know what the schedule is and any changes to routine is a very good idea. It may be impossible to have a strict schedule but you can develop a loose “routine” for the holidays, such as when we put up our tree, when you will see certain relatives, Christmas eve and Christmas day activities and even meals! It gives a stable setting to rely on when things may get a little unsteady, as well as the ability to schedule wind-down periods where they can rest and “recharge”.
6- Adults may need to be told in advance that your child will very likely not hug them, much less give them kisses, to get their presents or treats. The first person they have to reluctantly hug for something in return may be the trigger that makes the rest of the night unbearable. Make sure your child says please and thank you, no one should expect more than that.
7- Discuss ‘safe zones’ with your children. Someplace they feel safe, it’s quiet, comfortable… set up some toys or anything else they like, such that they can retreat when need be. Don’t make it a time out zone, but just a place to get away.
8- When on the go, pack with you their favourite music and headphones, ipad, drawing, fiddle toys or anything else they may need to help ease the sensory overload. Have a plan with your child of how they will tell you when they need a break.
The holiday period is a lovely time of the year, made even more special for you and your child if we remember the extra requirements that sensitive children have and be prepared to make some adjustments.
Merry Christmas everyone!!!!