Sensory issues can impact many different children. Some may dislike loud noises and crowded spaces because of anxiety. Some may have a more specific processing disorder such as Sensory Processing Disorder or an Autism spectrum disorder. Others may simply be sensitive to loud noises or crowds. Regardless, high-sensory events can overstimulate some young children. As you navigate this holiday season, be aware of the sensory sensitivities that some children may have. Acknowledging them will help you create a holiday season that feels safe and comfortable for everyone.
Some common symptoms of sensory sensitivities may include a dislike of tight clothes or certain fabrics, clumsiness (more than normal for the child’s age), a strong aversion to showers, baths, or swimming, or extremely cold or hot foods. It may be very stressful for them to play in large or crowded spaces such as museums, gymnasiums, or loud play-spaces.
“Fifty-two percent of children with at least one sensory sensitivity as preschoolers went on to meet criteria for anxiety disorder at school age. From this it is evident that not every child with sensory-overresponse goes on to develop anxiety symptoms. The team also noted that of the children in the study who did not have any sensory over-sensitivity at preschool age, 15% did have anxiety symptoms at school age.” Read the full article here (Oversensitivity in Preschoolers Predicted Higher Risk for Anxiety).
So, what are some alternatives to traditional holiday activities that may be more comfortable for some children?
- Have a “quiet” room. If hosting a family party where there may be loud noises and many guests, designate a “quiet” room for children, a space that’s away from the loudness of the host room. There, they can play on their own or with a friend or trusted guardian.
- If you want to watch fireworks on New Years, watch them on the television. This way you can adjust the volume.
- If you want to stay up until midnight on New Years, watch movies and cuddle your kids up with a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets are great for anxiety and can help a child with sensory sensitivities feel safe and grounded.
- Invest in noise-cancelling headphones or fun sunglasses. Work with your child to see what kind of noise cancelling headphones might help them attend group events without stress. Fun sunglasses may help some adjust to lighting issues.
- Have a code word. If your child feels anxious because of the temperature, noise, or number of people in the room, pick a code word and have them use it when they need to, so you can both take a break.
- Try to stick to their normal schedule as much as possible. If that’s not possible, let them know ahead of time, so they can adjust to the change in routine.
Holidays are overwhelming for many individuals, children especially. But they don’t have to be! Ask your children what might interest them and make sure to keep communication channels open.
For more information:
Sensory Processing Issues Explained