The holiday season is stressful for anyone, let alone for a child with cognitive differences. Seasonal scheduling changes and hectic and noisy environments are examples of the many agitators that atypical kids face. The additional stress, combined with any self-regulation deficit your child may have, makes the holidays tricky to navigate without some strategies to help.
MANAGING SCHEDULE CHANGES
Scheduling consistency helps most children, but is vital to those who struggle with over-stimulation and impulse inhibition. Look ahead at your holiday plans and compare them to your child’s typical agenda, and try to predict where problems may occur. For example, if your child has ADHD and you have travel plans, allow time for frequent pit stops on your drive or bring a variety of engaging activities for the plane. Make some downtime, such as short walks, during social situations that may become overwhelming. Create an age-appropriate visual schedule for each day and go over it with your child, so he or she has a sense of what is coming and is prepared.
HANDLING SENSORY ISSUES
The holiday season is filled with bright lights, festive sounds, dietary changes and even colder weather depending on where you live. Your child’s sensory integration modulation is put to the test during this time of year, so be ready for issues that may occur:
- Have earplugs with you to give to your child in case of excess noise.
- Dress your child in layers for easier temperature regulation.
- Be proactive about movement breaks such as walks or jumping jacks, and provide for them frequently.
- Pack snacks you know that your child will eat in case the party food provided isn’t what he or she likes.
- If you are at an event that requires seating, such as a play, locate yourself and your child near the exit for a discreet departure mid-show should the need arise.
CARING FOR HEALTH
Behavior challenges in children with sensory or self-regulation issues are often eased by proper health management. During the treat-laden holiday season, be vigilant about what your child eats. Watch sugar intake and offer protein to stabilize blood sugar. For example, insist that your child eat meat or veggies before eating something sweet or offer fruit in lieu of cookies. Always have on hand low-glycemic-index snacks such as nuts.
Movement is essential for health, so make time for physical activity each day. Sleep deprivation worsens child behavior, so make proper sleep a priority and avoid late nights where possible. Stick to a consistent bedtime routine, which allows quiet time in the evenings for your child to wind down before sleep. Regulating your child’s diet, exercise and sleep will help him or her cope with the havoc of the holidays.
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