Helping your Child Manage Holiday Mayhem

December 12, 2013


My son is quite social yet without fail he freaks out when we are at heavy populated parties. Just last night we were at the school craft fair and he had meltdown after meltdown. He wasn't the only one. The intake of sugar cookies, music and loud noise can send anyone over the edge but to kids sensitive to busy situations this can be especially uncomfortable for the entire family. Thankfully Carly Seibald, the founder of Social Sprouts, SLP shares her tips and wisdom with Motherburg on how we as parents can help our children navigate through their busy holiday calendar with (hopefully) social grace.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, joyous and merry, but for some children, the holidays can pose more challenges than you’d expect. Whether it’s at a large family gathering, a long seated meal or noisy and crowded holiday party – many children struggle with maintaining composure through all the festivities. For children with or without special needs, it can be hard to ‘keep it together’ through the celebrations. Have you noticed more meltdowns than usual? Is your child having trouble staying calm at gatherings – getting too wound up and behaving in ways you’d expect on the playground, not around the dinner table? Here are some helpful hints for helping your child keep it together through the holiday season.

1. Prepare Your Child with a Schedule.

Tell your child what to expect at the event, including where they’re going, how long it will last some things you’ll likely be doing there. Writing a list or drawing a picture schedule of events can be especially helpful for children who struggle with schedules and routines. Many children take comfort from clear expectations so let them keep the list in their pocket or make sure they have access to it throughout the event. Even if your child is not a reader, feeling in control with a written list can be incredibly valuable.

2. Give your Child the Opportunity to Ask for a Break

If your child is easily overwhelmed by crowded or noisy situations, make sure they know it’s okay to ask for a little alone time. Allowing children the opportunity to step away from the noise and festivities to a quieter and calmer place for a short while might help avoid a meltdown stemming from being overwhelmed. Some special activities like a favorite book are a good tool to make a break a positive experience as opposed to punitive. Remind your child that breaks are always an option and praise them not only for calming down, but also re-entering the party in a calm way.

3. Pace the Presents

Many holiday events are packed with gift giving and opening. Though kids love getting presents, often times the sheer volume and pace of gift giving can be overwhelming. So many boxes, so many choices and so much wrapping paper! Try having your child pick a few presents and saving the rest for opening later. This way, they can focus on the gifts they’ve opened, thank whoever gave it to them and enjoy begin to play purposefully with a few select toys!

4.  Make the Meal More Fun!

Sitting through a long family meal can be challenging for lots of kids, especially at a table filled with people they may not know. For some children, the constant attention of relatives can be a lot to handle and for other children, especially those who are picky eaters, the food choices and length of the meal may be the hardest part. Try making the meal a motivating activity by building in conversation about the food itself – taking focus off answering questions and engaging grown-ups. Some fun ideas include making guesses about ingredients in dishes, talking about how food was prepared, or taking pictures of dishes to make a holiday meal scrapbook after the event. Maybe a special visit to the kitchen after the meal to check out cookbooks or recipes can make sitting through the meal a little more worth it.

5. Provide Proactive Praise!

Though you may expect your child to behave well, it never hurts to give them credit for it. Building in praise when they manage their behavior can be your most valuable tool. As simple as an extra thumbs up or high five, telling your child they’re doing a great job can help keep them on track and feeling good. When your child knows you’re proud of them, they feel proud of themselves and work to maintain that feeling - a special surprise sticker, sweet treat or show of affection can make all the difference.

Carly Seibald, MS CCC-SLP, TSSLD, Speech Language Pathologist

Carly Seibald the founder of Social Sprouts, SLP - a pediatric speech-language pathology practice with an emphasis on teaching social skill development. Carly is a New York State licensed Speech-Language Pathologist and holds a Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from ASHA as well as a professional certificate as a Teacher of Students with Speech and Language Disabilities (TSSLD). With years of experience in a multi-disciplinary setting, Carly has worked closely with Occupational and Behavioral Therapists to help support children across developmental domains. Carly has extensive experience evaluating and treating children diagnosed with a variety of impairments including Autism Spectrum Disorders, Developmental Delays, Motor-Speech Disorders, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), Cognitive Delays, Receptive & Expressive Language Impairments, Sensory Integration Disorders, Auditory Processing Disorders and Emotional and Behavioral Disorders.  In addition to her private practice, Carly works as a full-time speech and language therapist and supervisor at Children’s Academy, an integrated, multidisciplinary K-5th grade school for children with speech and language delays located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

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