Does your daughter become upset when trying on new clothes?
Does your son cover his ears when he hears holiday music?
Does your daughter refuse to eat festival meals, especially if
Does your son demonstrate behavior problems if there is a change
These increasingly common sensory sensitivities can make a
joyful time of year a time of confusion and frustration.
Many children are either over-stimulated or under-stimulated by one
of their senses, including sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and/or movement. Everyone uses their senses to process and understand
the world around them. When these senses are not integrated properly,
the world can be a scary place, particularly during the holiday season.
Sensory sensitivities are typically referred to as Sensory Integration
Dysfunction. Children with Sensory Integration Dysfunction have a
particularly challenging time during the holidays because of the
A child who is visually sensitive may easily be overwhelmed by holiday
lights and a sound sensitive child can be over-stimulated by a noisy
party with music. A child who is sensitive to touch may interpret a
light bump as a push or shove and be rattled in a large crowd. In
response, children with Sensory Integration Dysfunction often act out,
demonstrating behaviors that may appear extreme and inappropriate for the particular situation.
Fortunately, a number of simple sensory
strategies can help your child
adapt to the intense stimulation surrounding the holiday season:
Be Sound Sensitive: Provide ear plugs for loud environments. Standard
headphones with relaxing music may calm children in noisy surroundings.
The Listening Program®, which utilizes specialized headphones and
formatted music, provides excellent relief for children with auditory
sensitivities (see contact information below for more details).
Be Space Sensitive: When attending a crowded event, identify a quiet,
safe space your child can go to if over-stimulated. Indicate the
location at the start of the event and encourage your child to ask to be taken there if a break from the crowd is needed.
Be Movement Sensitive: It is difficult for children to sit quietly for long periods of time. This is particularly true for movement seeking children. Encourage safe, structured movement activities every 1-2 hours. Simple movement breaks can include jumping jacks, wall push-ups, toe touches, or "shaking the sillies out" of each body part.
Be Touch Sensitive: Allow your child to wear clothing he finds comfortable. Avoid pre-party conflict even if casual clothes may result in a few raised eyebrows. Uncomfortable clothing may ruin a child's and your evening.
Prepare for Food Sensitivities: Never expect party hosts to be prepared for your food sensitive child. Bring along something you know your child will eat to avoid meltdowns at mealtime.
Dealing with Change: Prepare the child for holiday imposed schedule
changes in advance. Use daily calendars or schedule boards listing
upcoming activities. Add pictures if necessary. Activities can be listed hourly, daily, or weekly depending upon the child's needs. Review the day's activities with your child each morning.
One of the most important aspects of dealing with your sensory sensitive child is trying to relax yourself! Before a potentially challenging event, take some time to yourself to relax and rejuvenate. Children sense the moods of those around them. If you are already stressed with anticipation, the child may instinctively become so as well. If you are relaxed and prepared, you will be able to remain calm if difficulties arise. Your child will react positively to your calm response.
Finally, remember the purpose of the holidays! Holidays are meant to be joyful, happy occasions. Enjoy yourself and just do the best that you can. You do not have to apologize for doing what is appropriate for you and your family. Take pleasure in the holiday season!
For more holiday tips or strategies for helping sensory sensitive
children, contact Jamie Levine, OTR/L, owner of OT Ventures, LLC at
About The Author:
Jamie Levine, OTR/L received her Bachelor's
Degree in Occupational
Therapy at Boston University, Sargent College of Allied Health and
Rehabilitation. She is currently acquiring a Post-Professional Master's Degree in Pediatric Occupational Therapy and Health Care Administration.
Jamie has taken numerous continuing education courses to further her
knowledge in pediatrics and better serve the community. Course work
includes training in Sensory Integration, Handwriting Without Tears,
How Does Your Engine Run, and Brain Gym.
The Listening Program ® is a registered program by Advanced Brain
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