June 23, 2016

Preparing Your Child for Holiday Gatherings

Parents enjoy sharing the holidays with friends and family, but these gathering may be uncomfortable for their children. Crowds, noise, smells, and sights can be overwhelming to a child’s senses and make it harder for them to control their behavior and participate in the festivities. If your child is sensitive to or easily overwhelmed by crowds, noise, or sensory information, there are things you can do to support your child so that they can enjoy themselves, and so that you can also enjoy the festivities.

If you are going to another home for the holidays, such as grandma’s, prepare your child for the experience. Review the What, When, Where, Who, Expectations, and Strategies. Explain to your child where you are going, when you will go, and how long you will be there. You will review the mode of transportation (bus, train, car, plane, etc), who will be traveling with you, what it will be like to go through security lines, and what comfort item they can have with them. Then, go over who will be at grandma’s house, Aunts, Uncles, cousins, etc. At the family gathering, explain what activities will occur and what others expect about the get-together. Consider the meals and food options. If your child eats specific foods, prepare a dish that your child will eat and bring it with you, or, inform your host of your child’s dietary needs.

When discussing who will be at the gathering, go over the names of all the adults and children attending. If there are people attending who your child does not know, try and show them pictures of the person and describe a little bit about what the person is like.

After informing your child of the plan and schedule of activities, discuss a strategies to help them cope and self-sooth. Discuss with your child what they can do if they get overwhelmed. Remind your child that he/she can take a break from the activities and plan for where they can go to escape the overwhelming situation. It could be a place outside, a quiet room, or just a place behind a sofa or under a table. Also, bring comfort items and develop a sensory kit. You can make the kit with your child. As you create the sensory kit, remind your child of when they could use the items and that they can use it when they feel overwhelmed. (ideas for home-made sensory kits:

You can also plan a special activity or treat just for your child while they are at the gathering. For example, if your child loves making chocolate chip cookies, tell your child that they can make chocolate chip cookies with whoever they like at the house. Or, if they enjoy playing a particular game, tell them you will play that game with them while you are at the gathering. The point is to create a special time and event just for your child, so that they have something special to look forward to.

Discussing the itinerary, schedule, people involved, activities, and expectations ahead of time helps mentally and emotionally prepare your child. Along with discussing the details, also discuss the strategies your child can use to help them manage their own behavior and emotions, and feel safe and secure.

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