6 Strategies to Minimize Meltdowns Over the Holidays

There is often great anticipation and preparation around the holiday season: family gatherings, holiday parties, weeks off school, traveling to see distant relatives, and frequently disruptions to established schedules and routines. As a result, the holidays can be an overwhelming time for adults and children alike. For individuals with sensory modulation and sensory processing difficulties, this seemingly exciting time of year often can result in increased emotionality, stress, and overall frustration for everyone.

Here are six therapeutic strategies you could employ to minimize meltdowns this holiday season:

Quickshifts: Quickly shift states of alertness, with a simple yet powerful tool

These sound tools can be used to quickly shift states of alertness and set up the nervous system for optimal success. Quickshifts are an appropriate therapeutic selection for individuals who need to reset their arousal level or struggle with self-regulation following a stressful event. All of the Quickshift albums can be easily accessed via the Therapeutic Listening App, making holiday travel easier than ever. If a temper tantrum ensues, Regulation 3 is always a good option. Check out our free webinar here!

Design environments create a safe, novel space

Different physical environments each provide a different level of comfort and subsequent impact on our arousal levels. When a child is feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or in need of a break, providing a hideout or small, intimate space allows them to reduce unwanted sensory stimuli in exchange for sensory stimuli that supports calming and regulation.

Consider the qualities of the hideout space. Soft pillows, blankets, books, and stuffed animals often lend themselves to quiet, nurturing comfort. Environments like a corner, a play tent, a blanket over a table, and even an unused box can all be good options for a hideout.

Aim for predictability at every step

During the holidays, attempt to maintain as similar a schedule as possible for your children as you would during the other months of the year. Try to go to bed the same time, wake-up around the same time (although this one can be challenging for parents who are up late at night finishing all the holiday preparations), aim not to increase screen time more than is typically allowed, and strive to incorporate known regulating strategies even when traveling (favorite stuffed animal, blanket, etc).

When the schedule does need to be adjusted due to travel and holiday plans, understand that each child is different. Some children may need time and space to anticipate and adjust to the schedule and environment changes. Other children would prefer not to know ahead of time as it can be too stressful. Be mindful of your unique child and how they respond to change. Consider what will help your child to feel more comfortable with the new environment or schedule? Maybe offer pictures of the places you are traveling to and family you are seeing. Ask the child to bring something from home that provides a sense of comfort. Make a calendar to visually prepare for the new schedule. Work together to come up with a structure that will work for everyone.

Opportunities that require full body activation

To counterbalance the time spent driving in the car, waiting in lines, and sitting graciously through long family dinners, provide multiple opportunities for children to engage in physical play. Create games that invite crawling under pillows, through tunnels, rolling, and consider novel ways to move the head out of the upright. Frequent change in head position facilitates vestibular activation, a key to regulating state. Keep these activities playful to ensure that all participants are having fun.

Using oral motor respiratory strategies

When emotions are on the rise, break out the ice and encourage an extended exhale. Ice and exhale are two techniques that support emotional regulation. Encourage family participation by making homemade ice pops with fresh lemon or lime juice. If needed, you may sweeten with a little honey as too much sweet may limit power of the pucker; facilitating suck is another way to support regulation.

To support extending the exhale, play a kazoo humming version of “Name that Tune”; offer bubble tubs using refrigerator tubing in the sink or the bathtub; or use different power sounds including “Shhh”, “Sssss”, or “Mmmm” within the context of full body play.

Utilizing pressure touch and along with joint, muscle and fascial activation

The use of deep pressure touch, joint compression, and fascial activation are proven down-regulators. Make holiday cut-out cookies: using a large therapy ball as a rolling pin, roll the child out like dough- make sure the pressure is deep. Then “cut-out” the cookies or gingerbread children using a couch cushion to apply firm pressure. Let the child indicate how much pressure and when they are fully “cut-out”.

Games that incorporate pushing, pulling, carrying, and hanging, will provide proprioception to the muscles and joints. These games are often most effective when they are employed out of the standing position. Try having a child pull an adult or friend across the room while they are lying on a blanket positioned on their back. Or have a push-up contest while sitting in your chair at the dinner table.

There are significantly more receptors in the connective tissue than the muscles and joints. One way to easily access these receptors is to introduce an oscillatory or shaking movement. Try having an impromptu shake dance, if the line is too long…shake it off! Popular musical inspiration includes: Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, Shake It Up by The Cars’, or Shake It Out by Florence + The Machine, or compose your own shake song.

Remember that state regulation is not just for kids! Stay tuned for next month’s blog, where we reveal our personal strategies for minimizing adult meltdowns during the holidays and throughout the new year.

Let the holidays begin!

-Sheila M. Frick & Tracy Bjorling

For a deeper understanding of these strategies and more, please join us for our one-day Core Connections webcast. To register for upcoming dates, please click here.


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