TIPS FOR A STRESS-FREE HOLIDAY: Plan Ahead to Reduce Stress for Children with Sensory or Other Special Needs


by Dr. Zach Petter, DC

If you have children with sensory issues or other special needs, you know that the words “stress-free” and “holidays” don’t often go together. You’re not alone; for many families, the holidays can be the most stressful time of the year. However, with some careful planning and preparation, children with sensory issues and other special needs can enjoy a stress-free holiday season. The following tips and strategies can help the whole family enjoy the season.

1. Give your child a schedule of events for special activities, particularly on  days with lots of transitions. Whether it’s a written schedule or one with pictures for younger kids, your child will feel calmer and safer knowing what is coming up. Discuss the schedule regularly and provide info for each event. For example, let your child know which events will take place outside and which will be loud or crowded. Sometimes just knowing what’s next can help children with special needs feel less anxiety.

2. Before you leave for holiday parties, parades or other fun events, have a quick family meeting so everyone knows how long you plan to stay and how you expect them to behave. This will help prevent your child from getting overwhelmed with the excitement of the holidays.

3. Children with significant sensory sensitivities may require a little extra planning to enjoy holiday festivities. For example, you may need to bring along earplugs if you will be in a noisy environment or “sensory fidgets” if the child is expected to sit still. For sensitive kids who need to wear dress clothes for events, bring along some soft clothes for them to change into as soon as possible. Be prepared by knowing your child’s specific limitations and how you will handle them if the need arises.

4. If your children have food sensitivities or allergies that prevent them from eating holiday treats, plan ahead to offer alternatives like allnatural candy or a gluten-free treat from home. Children with neurobehavioral disorders like ADHD or autism often already feel different, so taking the time to help them feel included is important.

5. If your child is easily overstimulated, limit holiday decorations in your home. Too many twinkling lights combined with smells from the kitchen and other holiday distractions can be too much for children with autism, ADHD or sensory disorders. Let special needs children help you decorate for the holidays so they are involved in the changes that take place in their comforting environment.

6. Continue to make your child’s sleep schedule a priority, even in the midst of so many special events. Holiday activities put many additional demands on the family schedule. The additional activity and stimulation will go more smoothly if your child says on a regular sleep schedule throughout the holiday season.

NA_San_Antonio_11_13_web__Page_21_Image_0001Dr. Zach Petter, DC, and his wife Amanda own Brain Balance Achievement Centers in San Antonio. Brain Balance helps children reach their academic and social potential through a unique drug-free, whole-child approach. The Brain Balance program utilizes customized sensory motor and cognitive activity plans, coupled with nutrition guidelines to address the root cause of most learning and developmental disorders. The center is located at 1742 N. Loop 1604 E., Suite 121 in San Antonio. To learn more, call 210-620-7378      or visit

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