The holidays can be a challenging time for families as they try to balance their normal routines with holiday traditions. Extended family obligations, community activities, and the normal routine of work / school can lead both children and adults to feel overwhelmed. Children can be affected by the sensory overload of crowds, lights, and sounds. Here are some tips to make the season a less stressful.
If a child needs high amounts of stimulation…
• Run and play outside before going to any events that include waiting in line.
• Give your child a massage before going to events where they will be expected to sit still.
• Bring a weighted vest for your child to wear during the event.
• At family events, ensure there are opportunities to play outside or engage in active indoor play.
If a child is easily overstimulated…
• Be honest with family and friends in advance of the event about the child’s expectations.
• Set up a quiet area that the child can play in when they need a break from the excitement.
• Let the child know it’s okay if they don’t want to hug a family member, sit on Santa’s lap, or try a new food. Additionally, let the extended family know that these things are okay for the child.
• Introduce the child to new people slowly – one or two at a time, instead of a large group setting.
For all children…
• Maintain routines. Children thrive on routine, and they will be happier if they are well rested and have eaten on schedule.
• Look at pictures of family members that you will see at events, especially those that they don’t see often. This will help those family members to seem less like strangers. Try video chatting with them in advance to help the children become familiar.
• Be aware of what children are eating. It’s easy to let good nutrition slide, but your child may be cranky or lethargic if they aren’t eating well. Bring your own nutritious snacks if necessary.
• Keep your expectations low and go with the flow. Adults set the tone for children, so avoid getting rattled by challenging behaviors. Instead, find the joy in every circumstance.
• Feel empowered to say no to activities that won’t work for your child.
• Make sure to get enough sleep. Children won’t remember all the presents they got or the places that they went, but they will remember the time they spent with you. Be rested so you can enjoy that time.
For more great information and parenting tips, find a local Parents as Teachers program.
Mary Cannon is a program manager with Catholic Charities' Parents as Teachers program in partnership with the Arizona Partnership for Children (AzPAC) program. AzPAC is a partnership between Catholic Charities Community Services and Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Arizona that provides family support through home visits, group connections, screenings and assessments, along with needed resources.