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Preventing holiday meltdowns for your child and you

Holidays are fun, joyful times with family and friends – and they are overwhelming, over-stimulating and exhausting for nearly all of us.

But holiday gatherings can prove to be very challenging and especially strenuous for “sensory kids.”

178435773Imagine being a child who is overwhelmed by stimulation on a daily basis, or a child who needs more and more movement, more touch, more everything. For that child, the holiday season can be a nearly non-stop barrage of over-stimulation.

To help these children be successful and ease parental stress, the experts at Leaps and Bounds Pediatric Therapy in St. Peters suggest making a plan before heading off to 10 different family gatherings.

When making a plan, first, parents are advised to consider all the people, the noise, the smells, the food, the visual stimulation, the confined spaces, the restrictions from touching all the tempting decorations, the transitions that might affect their child –  and how they can provide strategies to help him or her cope.

Leaps and Bounds recommends that parents think about strategies to implement prior to, during and after an event to help their child maintain organization and regulation. Here are some suggestions:


Prepare your child:

  • Talk about the upcoming event. What will it be like? Who will you see? Always talk about things in a positive way.
  • Make a social story about the events.
  • Mark the calendar and provide regular reminders of the upcoming events.
  • Use a picture schedule for the day of the event, including the event itself.
  • Practice different scenarios that may be challenging, including exposure to foods that may be served.
  • Look at a photo album and talk about the relatives you might see.
  • Look at pictures of previous holidays and discuss how things may be similar or different this year.

Make a plan:

  • Allow your child to take a preferred activity and set up the guidelines for playing. What are acceptable activities allowed at the particular location. Is running, jumping, yelling okay? Is going to play in a bedroom okay?
  • Allow your child to choose acceptable clothes to be more comfortable (may need to take a change of comfy clothes for later in the event).
  • Let your child know that it is okay to tell you that he needs a break.  Make a plan for your child to have a place to go if he needs a break.


  • Use a picture schedule to predict what will happen.
  • Do calming strategies in the car on the way or prior to if at your home (calming music, chewing gum, weighted blanket or lap pad, etc.)
  • Have an activity available for your child.
  • Have a fidget available.
  • Use oral motor strategies (gum, chewy snacks, drinking through a straw)
  • Plan breaks to get away from the action before your child needs one.
  • Allow activities to get needed sensory input (allow a jumping break, a fidget break, a quiet blowing activity, etc.)
  • Use a visual timer to provide preparation for the end of the visit.


  • When you get in the car, keep talking to a minimum; you may need/want to use calming music.
  • Use the same calming strategies as you used on the way to the event (calming music, chewing gum, weighted blanket or lap pad, etc.)
  • Allow down time afterward, and maybe even the next day; use calming strategies to decompress – we all need that.
  • Try to limit the expectations placed on the child.
  • Try to limit the number of activities in a given day; allow for breaks between “stops.”
  • Talk about all the things that went “right;” talk about the great job your child did in certain situations.
  • Take a deep breath and have a happy holiday season. 
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