This can be a difficult time of year for our kids with sensory processing dysfunction and/or picky eating. Holidays frequently involve traveling or having friends and family around which changes up the routine and their safe environment. There may be extra pressure around the togetherness of the holidays, especially since getting together hasn’t been the norm these last few years. These changes in routine combined with added sensory input (such as lights, sounds, extra people, new foods, excitement) can be very disorganizing for our kids. Here are some tips to help all kids participate in the holidays and have fun!

Click on the image to download a pdf, or scroll down to read all of the tips as text.

Sensory processing tips

Limit the total number of changes
Consider travel, meeting new people, parties, etc., and try to keep the child’s routines as consistent as possible. This means sticking to the same sleep and wake schedule, mealtimes, and so on.

Warn your child ahead of time about changes that are coming up
– Practice with role play and dress up
– Show them a picture of people that will be there
– Use a visual calendar to help your child transition before and during travel

Offer a quiet place away from stimuli with some favorite or comforting toys they can access when they need a break
– Set up a room or tent away from the noise with the child’s favorite books, sensory toys, or a weighted blanket
– Grab a snack and go for a quiet walk

Inform and educate other family members about your child’s needs so they can be aware and help family events go smoothly
Download and share this resource! You can also write down any known triggers (e.g. loud noises) and what should be done if the child is in need of extra support.

Picky eater tips

Follow all of the above tips! Try your best to prepare them and limit changes.
– Keep your child on their usual eating schedule
– Feed your child before a major event so they won’t be hungry and dysregulated
– Practice cooking with special holiday foods at home

Don’t add more pressure to eat
– Make sure there are safe foods available that your child will eat
– Don’t make their participation in holiday events contingent on what they eat

Limit sweets
Sugar suppresses appetite faster than any other food, therefore do your best to limit sweets so that your child will have the motivation to eat nutritious foods. DO NOT make earning sweets contingent on whether your child eats their meal

With planning and practice, you can help your child get the most out of holiday gatherings. You know your child best, and you call the shots in limiting the amount of changes to their comforting routines. One of the nice things about the pandemic is that it’s given us permission to throw out the rules book and speak openly about what we need. Give your child and yourself permission to take a break if holiday festivities get overwhelming. You can return to the holiday fun and festivities once you are ready!