Tips for Managing Overstimulation at the Holidays, by Katy Klimczuk

With the holidays comes a wide array of stimulation – from Christmas music to an abundance of guests to a variety of unfamiliar foods. We are in our ninth year of managing overstimulation in these situations and, like everything else in parenting, it is constantly changing. We have, however, found some routines and boundaries that help to ensure a good experience for everyone. 

Pad celebrations with lots of downtime

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are bound to be exciting, and they should be! But the days surrounding them don’t have to be. Try to choose one thing to focus on each day. Maybe it is baking or wrapping presents. But doing everything at once is bound to drain everyone. Set up and cleanup shouldn’t be underestimated! So keep it simple and focus on one thing each day so you can actually enjoy yourself.

The day after Christmas, we try to stay home so the kids can play with toys and we can get organized. This is also a great opportunity for toy cycling. If there’s a couple things your kids aren’t giving  much attention to, it’s a good idea to store them away and bring them out on another cold winter day!

Offer a quiet refuge

I think our children see a different side of us during the holiday season. We are gathering with more friends and family and may revert back to our younger selves in these settings. It is helpful to let our children know that even if we are chatting with others that they are still our first priority. They can take quiet refuge in us and we can even find a quiet space or take a short trip to the car to regroup.

It’s  important for children (and adults!) to remember that we don’t have to spend all of our family gathering time with one person or group of people. It can feel stressful, especially if traveling is involved, but quality is always more important than quantity.

Cling to the real meaning of Christmas

Clinging to the real meaning of Christmas helps me stay focused when the loud consumerist world is shouting for our attention. Even in the span of a couple generations, the sheer volume of gifts and activities surrounding the holidays has increased exponentially. The reason for the season is the most important and we can do our best to model this for our children. I have found having some religious decorations and Christmas books around during the season serve as good reminders for all of us.

Eat beforehand and allow flexibility with food

The holidays seem to bring about a lot of random mealtimes and new foods. You may be eating a large dinner hours before you usually do, so it’s no wonder that your body feels out of whack. It’s a good idea to have a small protein-filled meal or snack before you head to a celebration. Snacks, sweets, and others’ timing may throw your dinner plans off, so it’s better to be satisfied than starving.

Holiday celebrations are not the place for strict eating rules (with the exception of allergies, of course). Naturally, there’s bound to be more rich food and desserts available. And some of us, while highly stimulated, aren’t as hungry as usual when we feel calm and in our own environment. It is a win to get one nutritious item on a child’s plate, along with some of their own selections. You will be surprised how attuned they are to what they need!

Have a plan – for events and holiday breaks

Talk with your children ahead of time about a loose plan for the holiday event you are attending. It will help everyone manage their expectations. This certainly doesn’t mean things will go smoothly and there still needs to be a flexible attitude, but it helps all of us to have a general idea of what we are walking into.

We usually write out a weekly calendar, but this year I’d like to be more intentional about having a general plan for the holiday break. During this dark and cold time of year, one day can easily bleed into another without much structure to speak of. And while I think lazy mornings are a must, having a plan for the break can make everyone feel more themselves. I’m planning to break up our time at home with some small outings, as well as friend time so everything doesn’t feel completely new again after the holiday break. 

I hope these ideas provide you with some helpful tips to manage this stimulating time of year. Most of all, don’t forget that you are human and should take breaks when you need to. As parents of special needs children, we must remember to give ourselves the grace we also want for them.

Katy Klimczuk is a former reading specialist turned homeschool teacher and children’s author. She lives in Michigan with her husband, two children, and two cats. She hopes you find joy and connection through her work. Follow along at https://www.instagram.com/katyklimczuk/.

This blog post is also available to watch on our YouTube channel.

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