By Maggie Yuhas, MOT, OTR/L TEIS Occupational Therapist
Holidays mean a lot of things, including family, food, celebration, and excitement, but also, traveling, meals away from home, new places, and new experiences. This can be overwhelming for your child, especially if they have difficulties in one of those areas. But, there are strategies to help prepare your child for these experiences, or help them enjoy them in a positive way.
If your child is always on the move, but you have a long car ride, or an event where they will be required to sit for an extended period of time, there are activities you can do with your child to help them prepare. However, it is important to remember that all young children typically do not sit still for long periods of time. Before your child has to sit, incorporate some extra play into their day. This can include an obstacle course, helping to pack the car (moving a heavy object), jumping into pillows, giving your child a big squeeze, or racing each other. Activities like these help give your child extra sensory input, which helps them organize themselves, and also use extra energy they may have. Before or while your child is sitting, try to keep the environment calm, if possible. This can be done by keeping the lighting low, playing soft, slow music, or keeping the car or room warm. Also, packing toys or items that your child enjoys to give them while they sit can help switch their focus from sitting to playing. If your child is doing a good job, make sure to tell them; positive reinforcement helps them learn!
Family can be a large part of the holiday season, including some new faces for your child. Beforehand, using some of the play activities mentioned above can help calm your child before meeting new people. In addition, make sure to explain to your little one that they will be meeting new people, but that you will be there with them. If your child continues to seem uneasy, allow them to pick one item that is familiar to them that they can keep with them during this time.
Children may also be hesitant to explore new environments or objects, so it is important to be patient throughout the holidays. There are many things to touch, taste, smell, and hear that may be new to them, such as trees, pies, holiday decorations, individuals in costumes, and new animals. If your child appears to be hesitant towards something, give him time to look and watch others interacting with it from a distance. If possible, allow him to watch you touch, taste, or go up to the object, person, or animal, then have your child come closer with you. They still may not interact with it, and that is alright. If your child appears willing, have her touch a small portion, such as a pine needle or the animal’s back. Continue increasing the exposure as long as your child tolerates it. If your child does not appear to want to move past one of the steps, allow her to make that decision, and continue on to something new.
While your child’s sensory needs should always be considered, especially away from home, the most important thing is to have fun with your little one, and to make positive memories with her!
For more sensory ideas, read some of our other blog posts! https://teisinc.com/blog/category/daily-blog/sensory/