Full calendars, sweets galore, and demands for both presents and presence—this time of year can be full of magic and tradition, and it’s a season that kids often look forward to all year; however, it can also mean a lack of routine, more time inside due to cold weather and out-of-the-ordinary activities—all of which can feel overstimulating and overwhelming. For kids and adults alike!
From a child therapist, here are five ways to help your child when they are feeling
overstimulated this holiday season:
1. Know the warning signs for when your child is becoming overstimulated. Do they whine
more, become easily frustrated, or have difficulty leaving your side? Do they begin to argue more with their siblings? Knowing the warning signs for when they are starting to become overstimulated will help you be able to intervene and support them more quickly.
2. Get outside (and prioritize movement) if you can! Even in the colder months, getting outside for as little as 10 minutes a day can be like a “reset” for your child’s nervous system and help them regulate after feeling overstimulated. If you can, allow some movement, such as walking, playing catch, or going to the park and swinging. Getting fresh air is especially important, especially when the inside of our homes can be easily filled with more stuff during this season (decorations, music, gifts, etc.).
3. Set healthy boundaries. It is normal for kids to eat more sugar, be up past bedtime, or watch more screen time (must-watch favorite Christmas movies, anyone!?) during this season—and that is ok! At the same time, kids benefit from limits and boundaries. This holiday, consider what is important to you for maintaining some boundaries while recognizing that boundaries can be flexible. For example, maybe you have a rule that your child can have one sweet thing a day, but when making Christmas cookies, you allow them to have more than one that day!
4. Keep routine where you can. When so much is out of routine and out of the ordinary this time of year, think of things you can do to maintain consistency and rhythm for your child. Maybe it’s keeping the same bedtime or morning routine—even during busy days. Predictability in routine and an awareness of significant upcoming changes to that routine can both be helpful for your kids to anticipate what they’ll be doing over busy holidays.
5. Remember to breathe. When your child is overstimulated, chances are their nervous system is dysregulated (meaning it is in “fight or flight”), and in those moments, they need you, their caregiver, to be an anchor for them. This doesn’t mean you’re not also overstimulated, but rather, you can recognize what may be going on inside of you could also be going on inside of them. Is your heart rate increasing, blood flowing faster, and you’re beginning to feel overwhelmed? Take a deep breath. Drink a sip of water. Roll your shoulders - whatever works for you to stay anchored and present. Seeing their parent regulate will help your child access their regulation skills.