Is your kid easily overwhelmed? You don’t need a formal diagnosis to notice sensory preferences, and if you see a trend in meltdowns and over-stimulation, chances are you’ll see more of those over the winter holidays. I’ve got some guidelines for preventing those meltdowns, and they might be applicable to adults in the family, too. Ahem. (That bell ringing over the kettle for donations makes me do a u-turn right out of the parking lot, muttering under my breath!)
First, manage expectations: yours and theirs. Parents with sensitive or sensory kids may review what they think “typical” families do: is that an achievable expectation for your family without getting tied up into knots? As the family planners, consider if you might need to give up on your vision or modify it. Kids’ expectations can wreck an otherwise great event, and getting a handle on those expectations will help the season go smoothly. A great way to do that is to talk! Before you go out, as you plan the holiday meal, schedule events, or invite folks over, find age-appropriate ways to check in with the kids and tell them who is involved and how long you think it will be: 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days? Will there be food? Other kids? Will they be expected to sit quietly, sing songs, play tag outside?
Kids’ expectations aren’t always clear to THEM: all the presents, all the sweet treats, read from the Torah, do the reading, not do the reading, light the candles, decorate the tree, travel, crowds, manners, strangers… take the time to check in before and during events, and be open to offering descriptive language to younger kids and getting more information from them as it dawns on them.
Second, have a plan: Coach your kids on a way to indicate that they are overwhelmed or have had enough. We agree to two fingers on the arm while I’m talking. When I reach a break in the conversation, I’ll tend to the kid. When the fingers push harder, I know it’s a bathroom emergency (or some other “emergency” and we are refining what counts as an emergency haha). Have an exit strategy — or two. If you’ve gone over how long you think the event will go, have a strategy in place for if the meltdown comes…. it might even be yours! Haha. Everybody gets their own coats and meets at the front door? Designated parent takes melting down kid to the car? And waits for a cool-down so they can return, or waits for the family to leave the event (does the rest of the family finish touring the conservatory of leave right away)? A quick review of the family plans can extend how long everyone can stay — just knowing there is a meltdown plan can increase everyone’s endurance.
Third, bring supplies. Discuss the event, air the kids’ concerns in advance, and take this opportunity to prepare for the overwhelm: bring sunglasses or a hat with a visor for light displays, bonfires, or even crowds. Bring earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones, or even an iPod. Consider a snack and drink, a comfort toy, quiet entertainment, extra binkies. A couple of times we even brought a friend!
Kids’ engagement and endurance aren’t 100% predictable. Even at 13, my son may grit his teeth through an entire event, or he may find his niche and really enjoy it. His enjoyment may be due to talking to other adults, finding a kid with similar interests, or just finding a place to zone out with a book or tv. He does always expect to grit his teeth through social events, so having a review of what we think will happen, supplies, and an exit plan help us get there in the first place. And in case you experience unexpected delays, check out my list of games and bonding activities HERE.
Other things to consider:
Lights: displays, on the house, at events. Twinkling, flashing, and color-changing lights can be overwhelming to sensory kids. For kids with seizure disorders, they can even inspire a seizure.
Sound: Malls, adult parties, kids parties, THAT BELL!
Gift expectations: getting less than you hoped for, getting an overwhelming amount, presents that don’t come with batteries, don’t work, or fail in their advertised promises.
Eating schedules: Stealthily sliding your kid a granola bar when you realize that food is delayed, or snacking before leaving home to avoid HANGRY meltdowns, can really save the day!
If you’d like some support around any of these issues, or want to sit down and map out strategies that work for your family, just hit reply to this email. We can schedule a free 30-minute chat, and if you’d like to set up more time after that, we can!
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