The Gift of Calm: Sensory-Friendly Relaxation Techniques for the Holidays

The holidays are here! Time for seeing friends and family, enjoying some well-earned time off, and, of course, exchanging thoughtful gifts. But what if your child has sensory processing disorder (SPD), this period is an overwhelming sensory cocktail. Lights, people, loud sounds – it's little wonder it's so uncomfortable.

Spending the holidays with your SPD child means finding calm during the hustle and bustle of the festive season. That could be specific exercises, mindfulness practices, and breathing exercises to restore calm if everything becomes a little overwhelming.

Learn more below.

Calm During the Holidays: Why It Matters?

Christmas. Hannukah. Kwanzaa. The holidays are a fun part of the year. However, these celebrations usually have a few things in common: decorations, lights, lots of people, and a bustling atmosphere.

Sensory overload occurs when one or more of the body's senses experience over-stimulation from the environment. For children with SPD, such an overload commonly happens when surrounded by bright lights, loud music, crowded spaces, and even the scents and textures of a festive gathering.

But it's not inevitable. Children with sensory processing disorders can ground themselves and maintain their calm through simple exercises like weighted blankets, hugs, compression garments, mindfulness, and breathing exercises.

Exercises, Tips, and Practices for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder

Learning and practicing some key exercises can make spending the holidays with your SPD child much easier. However, the exercises or practices you choose will depend on your child's age and the severity of their sensory processing disorder.

Weighted blankets or weighted lap pads are a popular choice for all ages. They're simple to carry around, highly effective, and provide instant relief from sensory overload.

There are many other exercises and practices to try, including:

Deep Pressure Exercises

Deep pressure is among the most soothing activities for children with SPD. Providing a strong proprioceptive input (aka touch) helps the body understand where it is in space and thus has a calming effect.

  1. Weighted Blankets or Vests: Using weighted blankets or vests can provide continuous, comforting pressure.
  2. Bear Hugs: Gentle, firm hugs from a trusted adult can be very calming.
  3. Body Socks or Resistance Tunnels: These allow children to experience pressure as they move, which can be both fun and soothing.
  4. Squishes with Therapy Balls: Gently rolling a therapy ball over the child's body can stimulate deep pressure.

Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness is an excellent activity to try with older children. Unlike deep pressure exercises, it doesn't provide instant relief. Rather, the child gradually learns to master their feelings and develop a greater awareness of their bodies. By doing so, they can help manage their reactions to sensory input.

  1. Guided Imagery: Lead the child through a calming, imaginative journey – for instance, walking through a forest or lying on a beach.
  2. Mindful Coloring: Provide coloring activities that focus on the process, not the outcome, to help the child stay present.
  3. Listening to Calming Sounds: Sounds of nature or soft music can help the child focus and relax.
  4. Body Scan Meditation: Teach the child to slowly focus on each part of their body, noting sensations without judgment.

Sensory-Friendly Breathing Exercises

Breathing is key to our sense of calm and relaxation. There's a reason breathing exercises are a mainstay of everything from meditation to yoga. Only through breath can we regulate our emotions and soothe our senses. Children with SPD, particularly older children, can perform these exercises anywhere at any time.

  1. Balloon Breathing: Have the child imagine filling their belly with air like a balloon and then slowly releasing it.
  2. Flower and Candle Breathing: Instruct them to smell a flower (inhale) and blow out a candle (exhale).
  3. Bubble Breathing: Use bubble wands to encourage deep inhales and slow exhales.
  4. 5-5-5 Breathing: Breathe in for five seconds, hold for five seconds, and exhale for five seconds.

Maintaining Calm as You Enjoy the Holidays With Your SPD Child

Parents and caregivers can often feel pulled in all directions during the holidays. One moment, they could be catching up with family; next, they're dealing with sensory overload. We recommend a proactive approach.

If you've got an older child, practicing breathing exercises and mindfulness techniques can work wonders. However, it's not 100% effective and won't work in the most stressful environments.

That's why weighted blankets, compression sheets, or weighted lap pads are so effective – especially for younger children. Providing firm relief in a stressful environment allows children to calm down and carry on.

Another good tip is to carry some headphones. Play soothing music from your smartphone while they perform a mindfulness or breath exercise or with a weighted blanket. It helps them feel a deep sense of calm quicker.

Of course, even with all these tips and tricks, the holidays are still an overwhelming time. What's needed is a getaway – a soothing environment at home free from all the stress of festive gatherings. Depending on your space, allocate a room or part of a room for sensory decompression. Include products like weighted blankets, compression sheets, or compression tunnels; add soothing decorations; and play calm music. If in doubt, ask your child what they'd like to include.

Self-care is a big part of spending the holidays with your SPD child. Practicing relaxation and mindfulness techniques together can benefit both parents and children. Plus, it's a fun way to unwind after a hectic day.

Thats a wrap!

That wraps up our tips for maintaining a sense of calm and relaxation during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. It's not always easy, but it is possible. If you've got any practices and exercises that worked when spending the holidays with your SPD child, we'd love to hear them. Please share whatever you've learned.

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