Christmas is coming - long awaited and adored by most of us, especially by children. The smell of gingerbread, cinnamon and mushrooms always brings back fond memories. I love Christmas decorations, decorating the Christmas tree, the snow crunching under my boots ……. The only things I don't like are crowds in shops and rush. So I try to do my Christmas shopping as early as possible or I order everything online. Of course, I could run with the others around the colorful and noisy shopping mall looking for the gifts of my dreams, but then I would be irritable and tired because my nervous system would be overstimulated. I am auditory and visually oversensitive, so the excess of these stimuli is not good for me. As an adult, and an AI therapist, I am aware of this, so I can plan the holiday season in such a way as to "take care" of my senses. Our children cannot do this, so it is worth considering what we can do or not do to make the holiday time enjoyable for everyone.
Christmas is a wonderful time, but it is also extremely sensory-intensive. The very preparations for the holidays are associated with a lot of sensual experiences, let alone the holidays themselves. We must remember this, especially if we have a child who is hypersensitive to sensory stimuli. We should remember that people who are overactive to sensory impressions perceive them too strongly and it is easier for them to overstimulate them. So let's analyze some of the most typical Christmas situations from a sensory point of view.
And yes: baking gingerbread cookies - it provides a very intense aroma experience due to the distinctive spices. If our child has a high olfactory hypersensitivity, let's consider whether it is better to buy ready-made cookies and simply decorate them - the smell floating in the house will then be less intense. It is similar with the preparation of other Christmas Eve dishes - if we know that our child does not tolerate certain smells, try to avoid or limit them - then we can give up a dish or buy a ready-made dish to reduce the amount of aromas at home.
Christmas decorations - they are usually beautiful and romantic, some say that the more the better, but this rule is unlikely to work for visually hypersensitive children. If we have a child who is hypersensitive to visual stimuli and we want to avoid overstimulation, the principle of minimalism will work much better - that is, avoid excess colors when choosing decorations, colorful flashing lights, especially in rooms where we spend the most time. A Christmas walk is something else, for example, a beautifully lit Krakowskie Przedmieście (although children may also react differently here, because it is usually crowded and loud), and staying for a few hours among flashing colored lights.
Christmas shopping - in shopping centers, especially during the holiday season, there is too much of everything - smells, sounds, colors, people (and therefore also tactile stimuli) - so if we have to enter such a place with children, I recommend it for a short time, and with children who are sensually oversensitive - preferably not at all.
meeting with the family at the table - a grandmother or aunt who have not seen our child for a long time and want to hug them, stroke their heads or give them a kiss, also crowded and tight at the table, festive but uncomfortable clothes - certainly for a child who is hypersensitive to touch it will not be a pleasant experience. If our child reacts excessively to touch, let's make sure that the clothes are comfortable, put them in a place that makes them feel comfortable, and let's explain to the aunt or grandmother that our child does not like cuddling.
Sometimes simple "treatments" are enough to take care of our and our loved ones' sensory comfort. I wish you a sensory-friendly Christmas
Anna Chacińska special educator, specialist in sensory integration