Is it possible to have a meltdown free silly season?

The end of the year is fast approaching and the madness of the silly season is starting to creep in.  As adults we are already feeling the pressure of organising Christmas presents and events. Our weekends are already filled with parties, dinners and lunches right up until Christmas. Plus there are the extra work/school “end of year” parties to celebrate the end of the year.

I am feeling tired and a little overwhelmed at the thought of fitting everything in by the end of the year. Many of our kids with sensory processing issues are already displaying behaviour that is a major sign they are starting to feel it too! I have had numerous parents calling me in desperation because they are don’t know how to help their child who is screaming/crying/getting physical/refusing to do things more than usual.

Here are a few things that help minimise these meltdowns and make it easier to survive. Here are our top tips;

  1. Prioritise your child’s sleep routine

As much as it is fun to let them stay up a bit later for some of these special events, it is super important not to do this too often. Sleep debt can be a major trigger for meltdowns.  It can be hard enough to tolerate the normal sensory inputs for a child with sensory processing but if your child with SPD (Sensory processing disorder) is also over-tired then you are asking for trouble.  As adults we find it more difficult to tolerate noise, touch, movement and visually busy environments when we have not slept enough.  For our kids with sensory processing this is doubly true.

If you do decide to allow a later night, then you must ensure it is only once and that there is sufficient rest time the next day for them to “catch up” and reset their nervous system to deal with sensory input again. Ensure there is extra down time with calming inputs the following day, and make sure you get them back to their normal sleep routine the next day.

  1. Choose activities carefully and don’t apologise for not being able to attend everything

This time of year is full of extra invitations….birthday parties, Christmas parties, break up parties, dance concerts, school events, etc. It can be easy to get caught up in the social whirl and feel like you have to attend everything. BUT YOU DON’T!

Take the pressure off yourself and more importantly take it off your child with SPD by choosing what you attend carefully. Ensure you space out events so that there is adequate rest time in between them and don’t feel bad for declining some events. Most people will be understanding if you explain that it is too much for your child to cope with, and if they are not then it’s probably best you don’t go anyway! Back yourself in your decisions to cut back on the social outings, you will have a much calmer and happier child if you do.

  1. Avoid shopping centres

The upcoming Christmas season has us all feeling the pressure to be shopping. However, shopping centres that are extra busy are generally full of too much bombarding sensory information for our kids with SPD.  It possible try doing your shopping whilst your child is at school/kinder or even give online shopping a go.  Avoiding these hostile environments will reduce the sensory triggers that can cause big meltdowns for kids with SPD that are over-tired and less able to cope.  If you really have to go to a shopping centre to get something with your SPD child, try to make sure it’s at a quieter time of day (e.g. early morning), a smaller shopping centre, be clear what you need to get so you can make it a quick trip and take things that can distract or minimise the sensory input for your child.

  1. Adjust your expectations.

At this stage of the year most children are getting tired. As parents we need to understand that they may be less capable of doing what we expect of them.  Things like getting through the morning routine may be harder. They are likely to need more help getting themselves organised and remembering all their belongings. They will probably get distracted more and appear as though they are not listening or ignoring you.  Being more understanding and tolerant of this will go a long way to diffusing situations that could lead to a meltdown.  Try to acknowledge this to your child and let them know you can see they are a bit tired and might need some extra help.

Be gentle and try and give them choices so they feel a bit in control rather than getting into a power struggle with them.

  1. Block out “recovery time” in your timetable

Now that you are feeling good about not having to attend every social event and have declined some of them, you should have time in your calendar to schedule in “recovery time”.  Block out a few hours a week, every week till Christmas where you and your SPD child stay at home and do things that are relaxing and calming for you.  Make it a home spa morning and soak in bubble bath together and then give each other massages, stay in your PJs and watch your favourite movie on the couch, do some gardening together, go for a walk on the beach, or just stay home and play games together. Your child needs this time for their body and nervous system to recover from the extra demands of this time of year. They will also benefit from having some time to just connect with you and feel like they have your attention.


Above all, tune into the needs of your child with SPD and your own needs.  Doing too much and placing too many demands on ourselves and our kids is what causes the increased meltdowns. Getting adequate sleep and rest, making sure there is built in recovery time, and adjusting our expectations are the secrets to avoiding the meltdowns and surviving the silly season.

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