While the holidays can be a time families look forward to all year long they can also be stressful, especially so for children who have difficulties with executive functioning or sensory processing. Even if you have a typically developing child, holiday gatherings, travel, and changes in the usual routine can be overwhelming for kids. With a little preparation, though, parents can help make holiday activities more manageable and help prevent behavior problems that may result when kids are overstimulated or confused.
Try making a visual schedule or calendar for the holiday season so your child knows what to expect. Depending on your child’s abilities you could use a daily, monthly, or weekly schedule. Make a note on the schedule of whether your child will be in school or at home, and any special activities that will happen that day. Before you leave for an event, go over how long you will be there, and how your kids are expected to behave.
Social Stories can also help prepare children for holiday activities. A social story is a reassuring and easily understandable story tailored to describe a situation, concept, or skill that may be causing difficulty. They can be used to explain the perspectives of others in this situation, as well as expected behavior and responses. You can make a social story about holiday situations with a word document and some pictures, or customize one already available for free online.
Some children may do better practicing unfamiliar events beforehand, like sitting at a table with lots of people, sitting on Santa’s lap, or opening gifts.
Drawing pictures with your child about an unfamiliar activity, like decorating a tree, may help relieve anxiety and overstimulation. You can also get out photos and crafts from last season to help explain activities.
Allow extra time for transitions to and from holiday events, so transitions will not be a problem with your rushed schedule. Try to plan for quiet time breaks, as well, especially if you know your child can become overstimulated. Check in with your child frequently to gauge how he or she is doing, and whether or not they may need a break.
Try slowing the schedule down a little. It can be hard to put a limit on holiday activities, but if you try to keep things to a minimum, the holidays will be much easier on your kids, and on you too!

Making sure kids are well-prepared for holiday activities can help prevent behavior problems and tantrums. It’s not possible to anticipate and prepare for everything that may trigger a tantrum, though. Next time on the Therapy Solutions for Kids blog, we’ll discuss sensory strategies for defusing an unexpected holiday tantrum.