GUEST POST: 5 Quick Tips for Enjoying the Holidays with Your Sensory Sensitive Child


This week, I’ve invited our resident occupational therapist, Kristin Bedard, to write a post to help make getting through the holidays a little easier. Kristin is leading an “Ask the OT” play date on Wednesdays at Roo’s World of Discovery at 11am. She has been a practicing pediatric OT for the past six years and specializes in working with children who have sensory processing difficulties. Kristin brings a wealth of knowledge from her background in both the clinic and school settings and we are excited to have her as a resource for our Roo’s World families!



Can you believe it? It’s that time of year again! Before you know it your house will be transforming into a winter wonderland and your calendar will fill up with more holiday events than you know how to squeeze in. If you have a child who is sensitive to change, is easily overstimulated, or is just more of an introvert, then you may find the holiday season to be a particularly tricky time of year. Not to worry! Here’s a list of tips and tricks to keep your kiddos comfortable amidst all the holiday bustle, and to make this season a bit more merry and bright.

  1. Prep them. Giving your child a heads up about the day’s or weekend’s events can really go a long way in setting them up for success. If you have a school event or holiday party to go to, describe it to them. Where will it be? What will you do? Who will be there? What will you eat? Make it a fun conversation so they have positive feelings going into it. Added bonus: this also gives you a good opportunity to outline acceptable party behavior. For instance “It’s not polite to say you hate green bean casserole. Instead, you can say ‘I don’t care for that, thank you.’” Or “When somebody gives you a gift make sure to tell them ‘Thank you.’” Remember, we can’t expect our kids to intrinsically know how to act and respond to all situations, especially new ones or ones that are overwhelming to them. We need to teach them.
  2. Pace yourself. If you’re a household that really goes the extra mile with holiday décor, consider putting things out in stages. One day put up the tree, the next day decorate it, another day put out your nativity scene, another day set out all your Santas, and so on. Your kiddo may appreciate this slow transformation as opposed to a quick and shocking overhaul. Similarly, pace yourself with the number of events you plan each day. If you know the mall makes your little one bonkers, it’s probably best to head home afterward rather than trying to make an appearance at your neighbor’s holiday party.
  3. Enlist their help. Many families have a tradition of putting up their holiday décor together, which is a perfect way to avoid the element of surprise that can throw our more sensitive kids off. Take this idea one step further and offer them choices about your household decorations (just make sure either option is something that works for you). This will make your kids feel like they have some control in the face of all the new changes. For instance, “Should we string white lights or colored lights?” “Should we use white candles or blue candles?” Apply this same technique when choosing your kids’ formal attire and you might even avoid the arguments and struggles to get dressed that will otherwise make you late to the season’s events.
  4. Keep a “Cozy Corner” in the house. Having a designated quiet area for your little one to cool down when they’re feeling overstimulated is a good way for them to reset and avoid escalating to melt-down status. Maybe it’s their bed, a quiet corner in the living room, the space underneath the dining room table, or even the bath tub – talk with your kiddo to come up with a mutually agreed upon spot that is all their own. Teach them how to use it and as a bonus they may begin to learn to identify when they’re hitting their limit AND implement this successful strategy for dealing with this out-of-control feeling. Remember, sensory input has a cumulative effect throughout the day, so unless we learn ways to let our brain reset we are all susceptible to hitting our limit.
  5. Listen to your little one. Through it all – the parties, the shopping, the excitement and anticipation of gift-giving time – be extra in-tune to your kids’ verbal and non-verbal cues. Maybe it’s their activity level, their appetite, or the volume of their voice. Or maybe they’re just saying to you “Mommy, I want to go home,” like my daughter will occasionally tell me. Nobody knows your child’s warning signs better than you do, so be their advocate this holiday season and help them feel more in control of their bodies and their emotions. Remind yourself that they don’t like melting down any more than you like picking them up off the floor kicking and screaming.

Kristin Bedard is an OTR/L. You can visit her site here. Kristin is accepting new pediatric OT clients and sees them at Roo’s World of Discovery.

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About the Author: Michelle Landwehr
Michelle Landwehr is the founder and owner of Roo's World of Discovery, a Montessori-inspired indoor play and learning space for children of all abilities in Kirkland, WA. She's also a mom to her adorable daughter, Madeleine (Roo). Before Roo's World, Michelle did freelance public relations for healthcare and technology clients.
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