We’ve all been there, right? You are at a birthday party or a holiday party and your child has a meltdown. You eventually have to make the decision to pack your whole family and go home. If you are a parent of a child who gets easily overwhelmed in a busy and noisy environments where they don’t know anybody; they’re having trouble joining in the play; people are talking; and their routine is disrupted, then you are pretty familiar with this kind of meltdown!
Maybe you’ve already started avoiding parties and group gatherings all altogether.
I want to give you a battle plan from going into busy and unpredictable situations with a child with over-sensitivities to light, sounds, busyness, unpredictability. All those things that you come to know are triggers for your child and leads your child to feeling stressed and unsafe. Only you know how much your child can tolerate before it becomes too overwhelming and meltdown is the next thing on the list.
1. Spend Time Outside and Doing Regulating Activities
Make sure your child gets a lot of time outside or doing things that are naturally regulating. The keywords here are rhythm, pressure and respiration. Try linear, rhythmic movement such as going on a bike ride, using a scooter, going on a trampoline, swinging back and forth. All of those are movement activities that help a child feel more calm and organized.
2. Pack and On-The-Go Bag
It’s a bag you fill with things that are calming and regulating for your child. That might be a quiet activity like coloring, or an actual tool that helps a child breathe or get pressure into their body to calm down. Pack some bubbles so you can go outside and take a break from the crowd or use other blow toys you can get on Amazon. Not every child is able to breathe or blow bubbles. You could also bring a favorite animal or a weighted animal that is heavy and squishy. A preferred game that your child can play with cousins or other children that might be at the gathering is also an option to help your child socialize.
3. Strategize on Time and Tolerance
Consider your child’s tolerance for group activities. Maybe this isn’t a gathering where you can stay 5 or 6 hours – your child’s tolerance is only an hour or two. Maybe you know that your child’s tolerance is only for the part where everyone is sitting down for the meal, not the part where everyone is running around crazy and the kids are all chasing each other. Plan your arrival and departure times to make the most of the time you have. Some kids do better going a little bit earlier before everyone gets there so that they’re not walking into a crowd. Make a plan to go to the event with those strategies in mind and apply them.
4. Identify Safe Spaces to Regroup and Recover
Whether you are gathering in your own house or going to someone else’s, there are safe quiet spaces you can go with your child to use the tools from the on-the-go bag. Going on a walk in the backyard, blowing bubbles on the back porch, or just go to quiet spaces like a bedroom to listen to music and color away from everyone else so that your child has time to regroup and recover before going back to the group are all ideas you can try to find the one that works best for your child.
Final Thought: We all have preferences
As adults, we all have our leisure preferences based on our unique sensory system. Your child just may be a bit more sensitive and less tolerant than you are. Be respectful of your child’s sensory experience and set them up for success. Plan out the activities over the holidays so that your child can feel successful and build positive memories instead of anticipating the negative events and “opting out” of social experiences.
Join our Parenting Children with Special Needs in a New Reality Facebook group for more discussions and information about supporting your child and finding a good balance between technology and movement.