Thanksgiving can be a wonderful, warm family holiday, but it can be trying for kids with sensory challenges. Here are a few tips:
- Holidays are a great time to work on fine motor skills. Take a look at the craft ideas in holiday season magazines and by entering the name of the holiday you celebrate into your search engine (Google, etc.). Young children may enjoy adding colored feathers and wiggly eyes to a pine cone to make a turkey.
- Cooking is a wonderful sensory experience. Let your child help you pour, mix, blend, and decorate holiday food. Even if you’re going to someone else’s home to celebrate, help your child to prepare a special side dish or dessert to bring along.
- Review in advance what will happen during the day, including who will be there, what activities will happen, and what your child should do if he or she feels uncomfortable (ask for a break, use a sensory tool like a hand fidget, and so on). Predict when your child may need your help to handle his sensory needs.
- Have your child engage in his or her sensory diet activities such as jumping on a mini-trampoline, using the swings, doing jumping jacks, wheelbarrow walking, and so on, BEFORE asking him or her to sit nicely at the Thanksgiving dinner table for a long time. Allow your child to take movement breaks if he needs them. A sensory seeking child may need to get up from the table after 20 minutes or so to get some needed movement or tactile input. A hypersensitive child may need a short break in a quiet, low stimulation part of the house. Again, it’s better to take breaks than to have a meltdown at the holiday table.
- Don’t force your child to eat something “gross” just because it’s the mandated holiday food. If you know your child won’t eat turkey, bring along something nutritious he will eat. Certainly offer him some turkey; this may be the time he’ll finally try it, especially if there are beloved relatives who seem to like it. If need be, explain to others that you think food battles are unproductive, and that you are working on expanding your child’s food choices. Sure, they may think you’re overindulgent, but that’s far better than engaging in a food battle likely to lead to a meltdown!
- While you may LOVE the smell of roasting turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes, these aromas may be too intense for your sensitive child. If so, ventilate your home with an open window, even if you need to turn up the heat. Find a smell your child DOES like (often kids like vanilla or rose) and make that smell available either through a scented candle or an essential oil.
Next month, we’ll have more tips for the holiday season. Meanwhile, we wish you and your entire family a very happy Thanksgiving!