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Wednesday, 21 November 2012 16:14

Pint Size Holiday Scrooge

By Children's Therapy Corner Occupational Therapists

Most children enjoy the holiday season; anticipating holiday parties, helping to decorate, and especially opening and playing with their new toys. There are children for whom the holidays and the extra requirements of those weeks seem more challenging. When a child's behaviors and responses are out of balance compared to the environmental demands, it may be that a child is experiencing what is known as a Sensory Modulation Disruption.

During the holidays, routines are changed and your child may encounter situations different from his or her typical day. For a child with sensory modulation disruptions, changes to their routine are particularly difficult, often resulting in frequent meltdowns lasting several minutes or longer without an obvious cause. A disruption in sensory modulation may look like any of the following:

Social Situations:

  • Tends to cling to parent when the number of people in the house increases
  • Covers ears in response to a Christmas carol being sung
  • "Wild" high activity level and unable to calm down unless removed from the situation

Clothing Battles:

  • Refuses to wear fluffy, fancy, embellished clothing or tights
  • Avoids clothing differences such as keeping coat on inside the house, or refuses to wear outerwear such as a hat, mittens, snow pants, boots, or coat

Strong Eating Preferences:

  • Will not try any new foods, along with having a limited food repertoire
  • Is irritated by and may need to leave areas that have distinct smells such as cooking foods, scented candles, pine trees, etc.
  • Difficulty eating in new places, needs familiar routine of home

Play Behaviors:

  • Becomes overly frustrated with new toys and trying to figure out how to play with them
  • Consistently needs to be the boss of others when playing
  • Has few "same age" play partners, preferring to play with adults or children younger/older than them

Strategies & tips to help your child

The following are some practical strategies to help a "Pint Size Scrooge" make their way through the holidays, and are usually enjoyed by most children!

Explore "Heavy Work" (think "exercise")

In general, giving children 'heavy ' muscle work can help to calm their sensory systems, which in turn could help them to accept changes in routine and cope with their day. [Please note that children should not carry objects greater than 10% of their body weight.] Some quick and easy examples of heavy work include:

  • Tug-o-war and push-o-war
  • Vacuuming, especially with a push vacuum if your child is okay with the noise and old enough to safely use the machine under supervision
  • Drinking thick drinks through straws
  • Hiking in the snow or shoveling snow (child-sized shovels work best)
  • Carry/push heavy objects such as full laundry baskets, pushing grocery cart and unloading groceries, carrying non-breakable Christmas gifts

Social Situations:

  • Ask family and friends who are hosting the gathering to help by having a 'quiet corner' for your child to escape to if he or she is feeling overwhelmed. Bring a favorite blanket, toy, or puzzle for the area.
  • If the child is able to, involve them in a problem solving discussion. He or she may be able to share more about what might be causing their irritation and what may help.
  • Try to arrive at holiday parties a few minutes early so that it is not as busy and loud when you get there and the child can 'ease' into it.
  • For holiday shopping, try to go during off peak hours if possible, or do more on-line shopping. If you have to go during busy mall times, see if listening to music on headphones will help to decrease mall noise.

Clothing Battles:

  • Try to offer the child some feeling of 'control' by giving 2-3 outfit choices
  • Look for clothes that are soft such as seamless t-shirts/undershirts and socks
  • Experiment to see if child prefers very loose clothing or a snug fit that doesn't move
  • Allow some extra time for the child to transition, ie. taking coats off & putting them on   

Strong Eating Preferences:

  • Find out what is on the menu and offer to bring a dish to pass that you know your child will typically eat
  • Have a few other healthy preferred foods handy to snack on
  • Ask your child to try a bite of different foods but don't force eating the new foods

Play & Interaction:

  • Is the child having difficulty joining into play with other children? Read their cues, and allow them to watch without pushing for participation
  • You could assign the child 'jobs' (depending on age) such as collecting the wrapping paper, helping to set and clear the table, etc.
  • If playing with a new toy is frustrating, show them how to play or enlist an older child to help
  • Bring along a few familiar toys or books as back-ups and to decrease the frustration level

These tips and suggestions are provided to help decrease holiday stress caused by any 'Pint Size Scrooge' and make your holiday season even merrier!

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