Sensory-Friendly Strategies for Stress-Free Holiday Gatherings

The end of the year ushers in a season of holiday cheer, happiness, and gatherings with family and friends. While many eagerly anticipate these festive moments, they can present a multitude of challenges for families navigating sensory processing differences. 

A cocktail of multi-sensory stimuli, social expectations, and new environments can trigger sensory meltdowns, fight-or-flight responses, particularly in children with sensory issues. However, a little preparation can transform family gatherings into joyful, caring, and friendly occasions for all involved. 

Here are some tips and tricks for being sensory-prepared this holiday season! 

Exit Strategy 

Decide beforehand whether you'll need to make an early exit based on your child's ability to cope with bustling environments. Notify the host in advance and give your child a heads-up, incorporating a fun or calming activity into your departure plan. 

Prepare & Communicate 

Employ social stories featuring soft toys or action figures to familiarize your child with the attendees, types of food, and planned activities. 

Sensory Retreat 

Designate a tranquil haven for your child to escape overwhelming stimuli. Whether it's setting up a play tent in the backyard or a body sock for seclusion, give your child an opportunity for some quiet time. 

Proprioceptive Input 

Offer deep pressure through the arms and legs, bear hugs, or hand squeezes as needed for calming sensory inputs. Incorporate heavy work and movement activities like animal walks, wall push-ups, or jumping jacks before or during the gathering for sensory regulation. 

Self-Regulation Portable Toolkit 

Assemble a kit featuring noise-cancelling headphones, ear plugs, compression garments, weighted soft toys, or vibrating toys, oral chew toys, tailored to your child’s unique needs. Keep their favorite fidget toys, sensory materials like putty, slime, or coloring sheets, within reach for quick relief from sensory overload. 

Set Boundaries 

Reinforce that it's perfectly acceptable to take a sensory break or employ sensory tools without facing judgment. Since social events can be sensory-heavy, avoid pushing your child to try new foods or interact with others. Allow them to engage at their own pace, and conversations will naturally unfold. 

Educate Friends and Family 

Sensory inclusivity shouldn't fall solely on the individual with sensory needs. Encourage your circle to become “sensory aware,” making them more understanding, accommodating, and respectful of those with sensory processing challenges. 

A dash of preparation, a sprinkle of inclusion, and a whole lot of love can make gatherings with friends and family a special and enjoyable experience for everyone. 


Author: Jameela Lavangia MA OTR/L

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as professional advice. The content is based on the author's personal experiences, research, and opinions. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified professional or expert before making any decisions or taking action based on the information provided in this blog.

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