32 Sure-fire Survival Tips to Reduce Sensory Overload During the Holidays

Holidays can be an amazingly fun time! Parties, decorations, songs, tasty treats and even smells fill our environment. For most of us, this is what makes the holidays so special. However, these are the exact same things that can bring on anxiety , meltdowns and sensory overload in many children, especially if they struggle with sensory processing disorder. I’ve gathered up some fantastic tips from real parents of children with sensory needs on how to prep for the holidays with kids with sensory needs.

sensory overload tips

The holidays can be completely overwhelming. Just think of everything that comes to mind when you think about the holidays yourself. Everything from hot cocoa to apple cider, busy malls to crowded houses, new foods to old favorites, street lights to tree lights… new sensations are absolutely everywhere. Now imagine for one moment, that your brain is unable to process that information and separate it all into separate categories. Imagine for a moment that you are bombarded with all of this information at once and still are expected to behave, attend in school and function the way you do on a normal day. Hard to imagine, right?

This is what children with Sensory Processing Disorder and other sensory needs struggle with on a day to day basis, making the holidays an even more stressful time of year {for both the children and parents}.

What is Sensory Overload During the Holidays?

When most people are getting excited about dinner and Aunt Suzy’s house, a child with sensory needs might be overwhelmed just thinking of all the new people they  have to encounter, Grandma Sophie’s perfume, Aunt Judy’s new baby crying, cousin John wrestling him to the ground, and then there’s the foods and smells. It can all be just too overwhelming for this children.

Believe me, I know. If you are a regular here, you know just how much our son struggles with sensory processing and regulating his behavior and body due to these struggles. On a normal day, we might see outbursts, hyperactivity, and even meltdowns. Then the holidays come. This starts 2 weeks before Halloween and lasts until Mid January. The countdowns, the anticipation, the excitement is just too much to handle some days.

Before I knew about sensory processing, I just thought I was doing something wrong. I just thought he was acting out.

Sensory Overload during the Holidays

Signs of Sensory Overload

Here’s the thing. Sensory overload can happen to anyone. It can happen to a typically developing child, a child with special needs, and even adults. It is more likely to happen to the children with special needs, but it does not mean that we shouldn’t all be aware of this possibility as we enter the holidays.

It might be a child in your class, a friend’s child at a party or it might even be your own child. Recognizing these signs can be vital in helping them cope and regulate this holiday season.

1. Behavior is Heightened and Busy: this might include jumping off furniture, running in the house, spinning, and pushing, just to name a few.

2. Extremely Bothered by Noises: in spaces that seem quiet or subtle to you, this child might be covering their ears,  screaming, making extra loud noises, to drone out the sounds that are overloading their brain.

3. Aggressive Behavior: this might present itself as hitting, pushing, pulling, arguing, and even biting others

4. Meltdowns Occur More Frequently: suddenly, and without warning the child might throw themselves on the ground, cry inconsolably, throw things, or even scream at you

5. Withdrawn from Activities: this child might refuse to participate, refuse to go to a family function, or might even curl into a corner to read a book

Reducing Sensory Overload in Kids

Tips for Reducing and Surviving Sensory Overload

It wasn’t until I learned ways to provide him with sensory support, that I learned ways of reducing sensory overload during the holidays.

Here are real tips and real advice from parents living with and supporting a child with sensory needs every day. These tips can help any child (or adult) during the holidays.

Preparing for the Holidays

Making sure if we go to someone’s house I bring food I know he will eat . ~ Nikki

No new clothes … Only clothes he has worn and approved will be worn on a big holiday day , so if I want him dressed nicely we have to practice wearing those clothes .  ~Nikki

Keep it simple so they can enjoy it! ~Britany

Ratchet expectations of yourself and your children down. Don’t allow others to dictate how you will spend your holiday. If you do go somewhere, come late, leave early, lots of planning. One of my biggest regrets is that I allowed the expectations of others to affect what was best for our family. Hard lesson to learn. ~Lisa

This will be the first Christmas he’ll be experiencing at his Grandparents so I’ll be including a letter in everyone’s Christmas cards that will be there beforehand. Explaining what SPD is and ways I’ll be helping him regulate. ~Jeanine

We try to be intentional with our plans and keep them low key. We brainstorm as a family the things individual really want to incorporate and scale it down to the ones each person holds most important. Lots of rest before any outing and additional transition time for winding down when we return (even if it means leaving early)  Above all we’re flexible…no event or activity is more important than taking care of each other and enjoying our time together (so sometimes we forego things). ~Shannon

We explained the accommodations he needed to thrive and nicely let the family know that we would only be at events that fit his needs…events don’t get scheduled during nap, and the aggressive dog stays at a relative’s house while we’re scheduled to be in town. ~Naomi

Seriously reduce the guest list. ~Karen

Take many breaks from family/friend get togethers. Really important that we don’t book every minute – which I love doing. ~Carolyn

Survival Tips for Children

Watch closely for signs of stress. Get out before meltdowns (yours or theirs) ~Carolyn

Make sure his bag of tricks is full and his sensory diet is well and truly in place, we check in with each other over the day to make sure he is still on trackIf I see the warning signs I will feed him and then get him outside to run around or give him a “hug” . ~Nikki

My son has a teepee tent he can go and retreat to when it’s too crazy for him. I also have his bucket of sensory toys that vibrate, flash, chewies, fidgets, and softness of a plush stuffy. ~Jeanine

If your child stims, give them a quiet place to do it so they can recalibrate their vestibular. ~Carolyn

We locate and plan for a sensory retreat in any location we might be and have a signal to communicate if things are feeling overwhelming. ~Shannon

NO CLOTHES that they don’t pick out themselves. ~Regina

Try smaller visits before and after with gifts, kind of like 3 small Christmas celebrations instead of one big over whelming one. ~Ginette

I ask if there is a room he can go to when it gets to be too much for him. ~Sheryl

Avoid sugar and food dye.~Carolyn

Recently, we have started diffusing Valor essential oils when we have visitors over. We also have been using a lovely mixture of Joy Blend on the heart, Stress Away on the wrists, and Valor on the spine before any family functions or holiday meetups which has reduced stress and nervousness. ~Dayna

Honestly, we don’t go anywhere without our sensory toolkit complete with a water bottle, something for him to read and his chewable jewelry. 

Survival Tips for Parents

Breathe! ~ Regina

It doesn’t take as much eggnog as you would think to get through. ~Regina

Losing the expectation of perfection ….and wine! ~Britany

Don’t expect that in your wisdom that family won’t think you’re nuts over-sheltering your child. Educate them if they really want to hear it, but otherwise don’t be the stressed out mom. Just treat everything as calm and normal. ~Regina

I definitely have learned to lower expectations for the boys so that I don’t get overwhelmed myself. Drink WINE.  We practice “just say no” to many invitations that come our way. I’ve also stopped cooking a big Christmas meal – which seriously cuts down on my anxiety and stress allowing me to enjoy the day with the family. I cook a Christmas Eve meal which we have early before we go out for one last look at lights. The we come home and put out reindeer food (making this is a great sensory experience!) on the lawn and cookies in the kitchen. I buy a pan of biscuits 1/2 cooked from a local restaurant and have them Christmas morning with various fillings. Did I mention you should always keep a bottle of red close at hand? Happy Holidays!!!!! ~Karen

More Resources on Managing Sensory Overload

Holiday Survival Tips for Families | MamaOT
10 Ways to Help an Anxious Child at Holiday Time | Parenting Mojo
Surviving the Holidays with A Child with Anxiety | Chaos and the Clutter
De-stress Children During the Holidays | Toddler Approved
Prepping for Holiday Parties with Kids with Special Needs | NSPT
5 Tips for Reducing Holiday Meltdowns | Golden Reflections Blog

Follow Dayna :: Lemon Lime Adventures’s board Sensory Processing Resources on Pinterest.



Decoding Everyday Kid Behaviors Sensory Processing Resources Sensory Processing Gift Guide


12 thoughts on “32 Sure-fire Survival Tips to Reduce Sensory Overload During the Holidays”

  1. I’m loving this blog so much Dayna, thank you for including my suggestions on it. I’m very grateful, it made me cry to see my words I n print. There’s an accountability there now and I’m going to make this best Christmas possible for my kids. And if that is just one or two houses for dine, dessert, and dash then so be it.

  2. Terri

    Thank you so much for this article! We are making adjustments and muddling our way through! This was so very helpful 🙂 Merry Christmas!

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  4. Deb

    Found this website from a Facebook for a wonderful paper toy…yes, I still love toys. As an adult with asbergers, diagnosed late in life, what a wonder to find me here in the descriptions, still true as an adult, with positive ways to deal. I’ve learned a lot about what works best for me over the years but it’s been tough being ‘different’ – no more…I honor my differences are you parents are honoring and working with your kids. Brute disciplinary force never worked on me – your sensitivity is wondrous and affirming. I still stim, remove myself for crowds, avoid loud noises. But I also resonate in the classical music world, art filled spaces and professionally, in organizational development where my ‘sensitivities’ turned out to be really useful and dependable and valued at high levels. May all your children find the same in their lives, wherever they are on the spectrum!

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  11. Losing the expectation of perfection ….and wine! ~Britany

  12. Krystal

    I love all of the tips. Very valuable information. Thank you

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