Once upon a time I imagined Christmas with fresh cut trees every year, musical decorations, and candy canes sprinkled throughout the house.
Christmas with sensory challenges can mean things look just as festive, but different.
I’ve done a post like this every year I’ve been blogging, but as my kids grow and change, their sensory needs change with them.
It’s not even half way through December and we’ve already had to get creative this year with our Christmas traditions. I get so used to their routine during the normal school week that I often forget we even have challenges, until something disrupts our schedule. Putting up the tree was fine (and we were able to put real ornaments on it without my youngest taking them right back off!), but we’ve had meltdowns because they can’t open the presents under the tree.
Here are a half dozen ideas to get through the season with sensory challenges:
- I’m putting the most important suggestion first. This one is so huge I could create an entire separate post about it: have an escape plan for every Christmas gathering. Christmas parties are fun, but they’re also unique to this time of year. Keep an eye on your kids and know when they need to take a break. Step out at the first sign of a work up, not after they’re already worked up. Either step into a quiet room, or step outside if it’s warm enough, and just calm down together.
For my son, he suddenly can’t control his hands and starts banging on the wall or the table. He loves music, so most people assume he’s just keeping beat, and at home when it’s quiet, that it what he’s doing. But when we’re out and it’s noisy or crowded, this is my cue. If I don’t move him, he starts knocking things over, spinning, and climbing the furniture. Once he starts banging on the wall, floor, or tables, I need to get him to a quiet area to calm down. And he knows it. He’s never once complained about needing to take a break. But if I wait until he’s worked up (because keeping a random beat isn’t anything that needs disciplined, so most people tell me to stop), then it does turn into a discipline issue and he doesn’t want to take a break.
One more thing with this: check with the host about which room is best to escape to. We went to a Christmas party last weekend at a house we’ve been to several times. My son tried to step into their spare bedroom, something he’s done many many times before. This time though, their dogs were staying in that room. When my son opened the door, he was greeted with two big black labs! Not quite the quiet escape he was expecting!!
- If you take your kids to a Christmas party that involves a gift exchange, bring appropriate gifts for your kids to open. If the gift exchange involves just adults, they’ll have something to keep them busy. Or, if the gift exchange involves kids, you know they’ll end up with a toy that is appropriate for their needs.
- When appropriate, let your children help wrap presents. Not only will they feel included in the festivities, but this works their tactile sense in a way most sensory seekers need.
- Be selective with which Christmas cookies to make. Food coloring, particularly red food coloring, is a serious trigger for most kids with sensory or attention challenges. Too much sugar leads to a crash with anyone, but something about food coloring puts my two boys in a whole different category of hyper.
- I love the Hallmark Christmas music displays. But too many all at once is a bad thing. Avoid too much noise! We have half of two different Hallmark displays, and my boys like to disconnect them and play all five at once. But whoever sets off all five, also sets off the other brother. Yes, we’ve had some disciplining because they’re intentionally picking on each other’s challenge spots…
- Be careful when wearing jewelry if it’s not your norm. I used to accessorize daily before having kids. Now as a stay-at-home mom, I’m a t-shirt, jeans, and ponytail kind of mom. But at Christmas I like to be dressy sometimes. My four-year-old, who wears a chewy necklace because he has a need to chew everything, thought my necklace was just like his and reached up to pull it before I could stop him. Thankfully the clasp hadn’t hooked and he didn’t break it, but we had quite a conversation after that.