While the holidays might be full of fun and family gatherings, they also come with nagging feelings of dread for those navigating sensory processing disorder (SPD).
You might already feel the tightness settle between your shoulder blade just thinking about…
- The embarrassment when your child doesn’t want to do what the rest of the family does.
- The complaints from cousins that your child is too rough.
- Or your child wiggling in their seat at the holiday meal rattling everything on the table and ultimately begging to leave.
And it makes you a little sad that your child’s overwhelm takes away from their joy during the holidays.
Actually, the holidays can feel like a magnifying glass on the challenges you face all year round. With family members watching and piles of disappointment as holiday expectations end in another meltdown or early exit.
Why Are Holidays So Challenging With Sensory Processing Disorder
The holidays are a sensory whirlwind for everyone. Some people thrive on this. Some people enjoy them but need a month to recover. And for those with a sensory processing disorder, the holidays can be downright overwhelming or even painful.
Consider all the sensory demands of the holidays:
- Increased social expectations
- New foods
- Different routines
- Less than comfortable formal clothing
Alone, each of these taxes the already sensitive sensory system for someone with SPD. Add them all up and that’s a recipe for an unhappy holiday season.
Which is sad. Everyone deserves to enjoy the holidays in a way that makes them happy.
However, a few simple steps can make the holidays enjoyable for your child or teen with SPD. These steps range from modifying your schedule to reducing expectations and providing tools to promote self-regulation. Today we’re looking at how simple objects like fidgets can make a big difference in your child or teen’s holiday experience. The same tools that increase calm and focus in the classroom, might help your family navigate some of the extra stressors of the holidays.
Fidgets and Self-Regulation
Most humans naturally use repetitive movements with sensory input to adjust their emotions. Think of fidgeting with a zipper to decrease the stress of a challenging conversation or strumming your fingers while anxiously waiting to make a presentation. This is the reason you’ll see increasing self stimming behavior when your SPD child or teen is stressed. These movements help regulate their emotions. So instead of trying to decrease these behaviors, why not simply provide a more appropriate outlet through a fidget object?
Fidget objects come into the picture as a solution specifically designed to meet this human drive for self-regulation through repetitive movement.
Here are some research-backed benefits fidget objects:
- Promote focus within conversations – A small fidget might help your teen feel less anxious when talking to relatives.
- Help adjust intense emotions – The holidays are filled with potentially overwhelming emotions. A fidget in-hand might help tame those big emotions so the magic of the holidays can shine through.
- Useful distraction when mildly uncomfortable or anxious – A fidget object can provide a distraction or slow down thinking when your teen is anxious or overwhelmed.
- Different fidgets help with different things - A rough fidget can help give a jolt of focus, while repeatedly stroking a soft texture induces a sense of calm.
Now that you understand the reasons behind fidgets, let’s talk about selecting the right fidget for your upcoming holiday activities.
Selecting the Right Type of Fidget
When it comes to fidgets, think way beyond the wildly popular fidget spinners.
Actually, fidget spinners have given the rest of fidget objects a bad rap because they decrease focus and increase problem behaviors. Turns out the visual component of watching a fidget spinner makes them a distraction instead of a tool for self-regulation.
Here’s the key to fidget objects most people don’t think about. A fidget object can be any item that activates the brain through one or more of the senses.
Think of the senses used in these common fidget activities.
- Bubble wrap: tactile, sound
- Flip Color Sequence patches: visual, tactile
- Pen Clicking: movement, sound
- Sucking on Candy: taste, mouth movement
The key to selecting the right fidget is finding one that uses a sensory pathway different than the primary sense of the task. So if you’re reading, you wouldn’t want to pick a fidget object that requires sight. That’s when a fidget becomes a distraction.
When it comes to picking a fidget for holiday activities, fidgets which are primarily tactile might be the best option to free up other senses like sight and listening. Taking this a step farther, it’s also a priority to select a fidget that has a calming effect during anxiety-provoking big holiday events.
The best combination of these characteristics are fidget objects that involve squeezing or finger rubbing over soothing textures.Some ideas to get you thinking:
- Squeeze Thinking Putty to increase focus and calm
- Rub fingers over smooth or polished stone
- Stroke soft textures built into clothing
- Squish ball filled with Orbeez
And there are other activities besides these. If your child already has a favorite fidget at home, bring that along if it matches the sensory input your child needs to enjoy your holiday activities.
You Create the Holiday Magic That’s Right for Your Family
The elaborate meals and gatherings of the Hallmark channel don’t need to define what makes your holiday season special. You create the holiday warmth for your own family.
So maybe yes, your child sits at the fancy dinner with their fidget object. Because, let’s be honest, sitting while adults talk is hard. Especially when you add in all the overwhelm from all the sensory demands of layered conversations, new foods, and decorations. So if an easy fidget object helps just a little bit, make sure your child has it!
Fidgets objects are not the one-and-done solution for the holidays, but they’re an easy solution worth giving a try.
And because you get to create your own holiday experiences, don’t forget to use other tools like building in breaks and talking about what to expect ahead of time. Maybe swap out one big, loud family event for an intimate family holiday activity at home.
To help you on the way to a wonderful holiday season, check out our line of comfortable and stylish shirts. They have built-in texture fidget and are comfortable for those important holiday events.