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Surviving the Holidays


“This place reminds me of Santa’s Workshop! Except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me.” — Buddy the Elf.

It’s that time again! We are headed into the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Hold on to your scarves, hats, and winter snow shoes. We’ve got some holiday strategies to get you and your family sledding into the New Year with fewer bumps and bruises!


SANTA! The jolly guy can be scary sometimes… let’s be honest. Here are some ideas to help you and your child get ready for the big meeting: Santa does not exactly look like your average, everyday stranger.  It’s important to prepare your child for the sight of such a colorfully bearded man. One way to  prepare is to look at pictures and to read about Santa ahead of time. A practice run is also a great idea. Get dad or grandpa involved and play dress up together! When the big day arrives, be sure not to force your child’s participation.  If your child won’t sit on Santa’s lap, try having him/her sit in front of Santa,  have him/her give Santa a high five, or hand a sweetly written letter to Santa for a creative and happy interaction. You can always make it a “family” Santa photo shoot and be in the picture with your child too!


Let’s talk shop. Shopping can be terrifying for parents and children alike. Here are some tips for you: It’s again really important to prepare your child for the shopping experience. Talk about the lights, noises, people, smells and anything else your child might run into during the holiday excursion. Have a plan of action for your trip. Involve your child in the shopping experience. Give him/her the power to cross things off your list with you. Review behaviors desired prior to going shopping. Practice these behaviors at home. Role play shopping trips at home for fun. Create a method of communication in advance in case your child needs a break. Use a picture card to help communicate the need to get out of an overwhelming situation.


Over the river and through the woods, load up the car and let’s go!  Here are some great strategies to make that dreaded car ride go smoother:  It’s important to build movement into the car ride. Sing-a-longs are great ways to do this. Who knows? You could be the next YouTube sensation!  Your family might appreciate the show upon arrival too! If your child has sensory needs, remember to bring a weighted blanket, music, fidgets, etc.  Make surprise bags for each hour to keep kids entertained. Plan breaks, bathroom stops, and meals in advance. Use picture scheduling and/or a visual timer to help children understand the concept of time.

It’s time for a party…
Prepare you and your children for a successful holiday experience with family and friends. Make sure to keep your child going through the motions of their regular routines over the holidays. Keep the bed times, wake up times, and meal times consistent. Incorporate scheduled activities into the days off from school. For the big holiday family event, be sure to feed them snacks and meals at their regular meal times. We all are not ourselves when we are starved for food. However, those Snickers bars might not be the best choice for curbing hunger. Sugar depletes our desire to consume foods. So, it’s important snacks are healthy and Santa’s cookies aren’t stolen off the plate too soon. If the party involves a novel setting/people… share when, who, what will be there with your child prior to the event. Don’t force participation in an activity and find a place to take a break early on.  If your family doesn’t know your child’s strengths or difficulties, educate them! Don’t expect your child to behave in a way that they don’t behave at home. If your child is a picky eater and has bad manners, choose the skill that is most important for you both to work on at Christmas dinner.  Keep your expectations realistic and set your child up for success.


Sensory play ideas for the holidays: 
• Wrapping presents (use different textures of paper, ribbon, etc.)
• Make food together! Especially Santa’s cookies
• Decorate the house together
• Make Christmas countdown activities
• Play in the snow, build a snowman
• Take a walk to look at Christmas lights
• Try new foods related to the holiday
• Let your child pick out holiday music

Nikki Elsasser OTD, OTR/L

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