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Five Tips for Helping your Little Ones Navigate this Holiday Season

The holidays are quickly approaching and that can mean large gatherings with friends and family, and various holiday activities with unpredictable schedules. Whatever your family members’ comfort level this year with gathering, it’s likely to be slightly different from last year, and from years past, due to the pandemic. If you or your child has any level of social anxiety, fear, or discomfort regarding “re-entering” public life, or separately, if anyone in your family is dealing with sensory challenges, the tips below may help.

Here are five quick tips to getting through the big holiday activities together:

1- Expectations, expectations.
Note your expectations of the holiday activity and/or gathering, and listen to the expectations of your spouse and kiddos. Discuss how you see the day going, what activities will fill the time, when and how food will be served, who you will encounter, and when you’ll be going home. You may have expectations of long conversations with cousins or friends you haven’t seen in years, while kids have expectations of dessert, and being snuggled up with you for a movie.
If you’ve been a family that hasn’t been out in large settings in a long time, consider coming up with a plan for an early departure in case your children seem exhausted early on. Many children (and adults) have lost their endurance for large group gatherings and big stimulating events that go on for hours. Communicate with each other and ease into it.

2- Prep the kids with visuals and stories.
Consider preparing your kids by showing them pictures of the people they will see and the places they will be visiting. Tell them stories about the family members or friends you all will be reconnecting with, and why this activity is important to you and your partner. Read books or watch videos together of similar events. Adding the visual element allows them another sensory experience or “anchor” to prepare themselves

3-Get ready by role playing.
Role playing can be a fun way to get kids ready for the social interactions they may encounter. Here are a few ideas to review:
What should your child say if an adult or other child wants to hug and your child does not? What should your child say if play with another child is becoming uncomfortable and your child wants to leave the game?
What should we do if we don’t like the food being served?
Where should we meet if we lose one another or stray from the group?
What is our family “signal” when we are ready to go home?

4-Feed the kids.
Holiday “chaos” may include desserts, late bedtimes, unpredictable mealtimes or long, drawn out meals at the table. Consider feeding your kids prior to the event, and having some healthy snacks available to them during the event. This could be a good season to think less about what they are actually eating at the dinner table, and think more about keeping them fueled up to make it through the events.

5- Pack quiet and comforting go-to activities for them.
Consider having each child bring a small bag with items they can do independently and quietly. Here are a few ideas: headphones (noise cancelling, or used as a physical sound buffer, and/or used with music/audio books), paper and markers, fidgets, an activity workbook, a book to read, a tablet, a comfortable hoodie, or small blanket, etc. If children are not used to being around stimulating environments due to the pandemic, or they get easily overstimulated due to sensory challenges, the option to retreat into a personal space at any time will help.
Pack yourself a mental note to watch your kids for signs of fatigue, which may manifest as excessive “check-ins” with you, non-compliance, making poor choices, attention-seeking behaviors, and meltdowns.

There is so much to be thankful for this holiday season, and we have much to look forward to! Enjoy your holiday season!

Dr. Angie Lynch Fannon Occupational Therapist

Post adoption coach, AWAA

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