Avoid Holiday Sensory Overload
Jessica Glenbocki

Avoiding Sensory Overload During the Holidays

Avoid Holiday Sensory Overload
Jessica Glenbocki

Avoiding Sensory Overload During the Holidays

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Sensory overload during the holidays can occur quickly.  The holidays are exciting for children.  However, they can often mean new people, places, and foods. All of which can be overstimulating for young kids. Avoid sensory-induced meltdowns and allow all children to enjoy the holiday season with these 6 personal strategies.

6 Strategies to Avoid Sensory Overload

1. Give your child a schedule of events for special activities, particularly on days with lots of transitions. Whether it’s a written schedule or one with pictures for younger kids, your child will feel calmer and safer knowing what is coming next. If you have a list of events, consider letting your child cross off events once they are complete, and discuss the schedule regularly. Provide info for each event when possible.

For example, let your child know which events will occur outside and which will be loud or crowded. Sometimes just knowing what’s next can help children avoid sensory overload and feel less anxiety.

2. Choose a code word your child can use if they feels overwhelmed and needs a break. Assure your child if they use the code word, you will respond right away. Once again, giving children some control during activities that may be overstimulating for them will reduce anxiety and help them stay calm and organized. Knowing they have a way “out” of a sensory overload situation is important.

3. Before you leave for holiday parties, parades, or other events, have a quick family meeting so your whole family knows how long you plan to stay and how you expect them to behave. This will benefit all children since any child can easily get overwhelmed with the excitement of the holidays. Continue to make your child’s sleep schedule a priority, even in the midst of so many special events. Proper sleep can help deal with sensory overload situations.

4. Children with sensory sensitives may require a little extra planning to enjoy holiday festivities. For example, bring along earplugs or headphones if you are in a noisy environment.  Bring sensory fidgets if the child is expected to sit still. For sensitive kids who need to wear dress clothes for events, bring along some soft clothes for them to change into as soon as possible.

Consider allowing your child to bring a small backpack filled with comfort and sensory items. Prepare to handle specific situations based on your child’s specific limitations. Don’t wait for sensory overload and the meltdown to begin.

5. If your child has food sensitives or allergies that prevent him or her from eating holiday treats, plan ahead to offer alternatives like all-natural candy or gluten-free treats from home. Children with neurobehavioral disorders often already feel different, so be sure to include them in as many holiday festivities as possible.

6. If your child is easily over-stimulated, limit holiday decorations in your home. Too many twinkling lights combined with smells from the kitchen and other holidays distractions, while enjoyable to most, can cause sensory overload. When possible, allow children to help you decorate for the holidays.  Make sure they are involved in the changes that take place in their environment, as well as allow them to take the lead in deciding which decorations are used.

I hope these tips help your family avoid sensory overload and enjoy a happy and healthy holiday season!

About the Author

I am an occupational therapist with 12 years of experience working with children of all ages and diagnoses. I graduated from Cleveland State University with a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. After working in the field for a number of years, I obtained my certification in sensory integration. I currently work with school-based children in a virtual setting, focusing on fine motor, visual motor, self-help and sensory processing skills. I am also pursuing my Doctorate of Occupational Therapy through Shawnee State University’s on-line program. My pediatric experience includes working with children of all ages in various settings such as hospital based out-patient clinic, private out-patient clinic, early intervention, and school-based; brick and mortar and virtual schools. It is my hope to help educate and provide you with the tools to allow your child to reach their greatest potential. Treatment approaches focus on play and client/child centered interventions. My passion is helping children and families live their lives to the fullest!

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