Managing Regulation and Anxiety During the Holiday Season: SLP and OT Strategies

The holiday season can be a time of joy, but it can also bring increased sensory stimulation, changes in routines, and social gatherings that may lead to anxiety and regulation challenges, especially for children with sensory sensitivities and neurodiverse needs. As your school-based SLP and OT, we’re here to offer strategies that can help your child navigate the holiday season with more comfort and less stress.

**1. Visual Schedules:**

Create visual schedules that outline the day’s or week’s activities during the holidays. Visual cues provide predictability and structure, helping children understand what to expect. Include breaks and downtime in the schedule to give your child a chance to self-regulate and recharge.

**2. Sensory-Friendly Spaces:**

Designate a sensory-friendly space where your child can retreat when the hustle and bustle becomes overwhelming. This space should include sensory tools like fidget toys, noise-canceling headphones, and tactile objects to provide comfort and regulate sensory input. Ensure your child knows where the spaces/tools are and how to access what they need if you are visiting an unfamiliar home or space. 

**3. Prepare in Advance:**

Discuss upcoming events and changes in routines with your child beforehand. Role-playing can help them understand what to expect, how to interact with others, and how to manage anxiety-provoking situations. Social  stories use simple language and images to explain specific social scenarios, expectations, and appropriate responses, helping individuals prepare for and adapt to various social interactions.

**4. Communication Tools:**

SLPs can help develop communication tools, such as visual supports or social scripts, that your child can use to express their feelings and needs in social situations. Encourage your child to use these tools to communicate when they need a break or when they’re feeling overwhelmed.

**5. Practice Self-Regulation:**

Teach your child self-regulation strategies. Techniques like mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, or grounding exercises can be valuable tools to manage anxiety and sensory overload.

**6. Maintain a Balanced Diet:**

The holiday season often brings an abundance of sugary treats. Be mindful of your child’s diet, as excessive sugar can impact behavior and regulation. Ensure they have balanced meals and access to nutritious snacks along with the fun indulgences.

**7. Gradual Exposure:**

If your child is anxious about specific holiday events or traditions, consider gradual exposure. Start with small, controlled experiences and gradually work up to larger gatherings or events. This approach can help reduce anxiety and build confidence.

**8. Encourage Sensory Exploration:**

Offer opportunities for sensory exploration that align with your child’s needs. Whether it’s tactile play, sensory bins, or movement activities, spending time in a sensory-deprived space, engaging in sensory experiences can help them self-regulate.

**9. Seek Professional Guidance:**

If your child’s anxiety and regulation challenges persist or worsen during the holiday season, consider seeking the expertise of an SLP or OT. They can provide tailored strategies and interventions to support your child’s unique needs.

Remember that every child is unique, and it’s essential to tailor strategies to your child’s specific needs and preferences. By incorporating these SLP and OT techniques, you can help your child manage regulation and anxiety during the holidays, allowing them to fully enjoy the festivities and make lasting memories. Wishing you and your family a joyful and stress-free holiday season!

Warm Regards,

Erin Germsheid, BSc.OT

Miranda Lane, MSc.SLP, MBA, R.SLP, SLP(C)

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