If you’re a parent who anticipates Thanksgiving dinner, holiday presents, and birthday parties with as much trepidation as joy, you are not alone! It isn’t that your child is not excited or appreciative, but the elements that make up celebrations can lead some kids towards inevitable meltdown.
Change in routine
Routines give children comfort and security because they know what to expect and what is expected of them. Special events usually create a change in routine. Though change and surprises can be fun, they are stimulating to the nervous system. Sensitive kids may benefit from a heads up. Let them know about changes in advance so they can prepare themselves mentally. It is also helpful to limit the number of surprises and changes in a given day.
Similar to changes, letting kids know in advance can ease transitions. You might even “rehearse” the evening before to let them know how the day will play out. Some kids have a poor sense of time so you can relate the transition to activities such as “after presents are opened, we’ll put on shoes, and then go home.” If using actual time, give frequent reminders as the transition time approaches. When possible, also try to predict the unpredictable, “if it rains tomorrow, we’ll eat lunch inside instead of going to the park.”
As adults, we are not always aware of how overwhelming our surroundings can be for kids, especially for sensitive kids. Special occasions often suggest fancy clothes which are more snug and itchy than the usual play clothes. And then there are all the people – hugging, touching, and even just the more crowded spaces (before the pandemic anyways). It can also be noisy with added voices, loud music, balloons, clapping, etc. Some kids have a harder time processing sensory input, especially when their nervous system is already revved up from the excitement.
When possible, try limiting the requirements that you see might be irritating for your child.
Keep an eye on your child, looking for small flairs of anger or frustration. They might get more bossy and controlling, or maybe more rigid and less engaged. These are signs that your child could be heading towards a melt-down. Children don’t like losing control any more than we do. Sometimes they need our help to prevent it from happening. It might be a good time to direct them towards some time alone in a quiet place or towards a new activity. This is also a good time to do some heavy work like helping to put the chairs around the table (more ideas in last weeks’ column).
Of course, preceding a big day with a good nights sleep and a healthy breakfast will also do kids and parents a world of good. With a little preparation, and a few preventative measures, your child can be set up to join in the fun with a lot less stress.
Donna Drury is a physical therapist specializing in neuro developmental therapy for children with learning, behavior, or sensory challenges. She is fascinated with the elegance and power that movement has in making changes in the way the brain functions. Her goal and passion is using movements to help kids and teens reach their maximum potential in school and in life.