Holidays with a Highly Sensitive Child

For anyone who has a highly sensitive child (HSC) – this post is going to resonate with you and hopefully offer some words of encouragement. And if you don’t have an HSC, our hope is that it may open your eyes to what life is like with one. It’s a beautiful piece.

We love sharing posts by our Lose the Cape: Never Will I Ever (and then I had kids!) contributors. Today we are happy to share this post by Julia Arnold. She writes the fantastic blog Frantic Mama, which is where this post originally appeared. Be sure to check her out!

Holidays with a Highly Sensitive Child

My post on successfully celebrating Halloween with your highly sensitive child (HSC) struck a cord with many of you, so I’m sharing ideas I’ve learned over the years to help you and your HSC enjoy the busy, overstimulating, often stressful holiday season.

For many people, of course, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah– whatever you celebrate– is simply full of loud, busy, exciting FUN. There are Santa laps to sit on, feasts to eat, parties to attend, and best of all– no school!

holidays with highly sensitive child

However, for those of us with HSCs, ALL of that ‘excitement’ makes our blood pressure rise as we think of the challenges inherent in all of those stimulating, crowded, busy encounters.

Like I mentioned in my Halloween post, I think the most important thing for parents of HSCs to remember is that just because our children don’t participate in every single holiday tradition doesn’t mean there’s anything “wrong” with them or with our parenting. In fact, it’s our job to protect our children while also encouraging them to enjoy themselves and participate in traditions when they can.

Try not to play the comparison game or think of what your neighbor, cousins, parents, etc., are doing this season, and try– like I do– to remember that every family is unique and we all must do what is best for our own families.

[bctt tweet=”Strategies for surviving the #holidays with a #highlysensitivechild w/ @MNFranticMama”]

Here are a few hard-earned strategies I’ve learned to help my son, now almost 5 and a half (how is that possible?!)– and therefore our whole family– enjoy this time of year:

1.  You don’t need to attend every party or event. If you’re an extrovert, this will be hard for you. After all, you love parties, right? And isn’t sitting on Santa’s lap a rite of passage? I can see how it would be difficult to reframe all of this, but take comfort in my own experience: we haven’t had my son wait in a busy mall line and sit on a strange man’s lap since he was 6 months old and looked at us like we were insane for handing him over. And we are okay with that. In fact, I think he appreciates that we have his back. While some parties– with family, for example– are probably required, the ones that aren’t, I think, are okay to kindly decline to preserve some quiet time for your HSC.

2. No school or preschool means lack of routine and structure. This is a hard one for all of us. Whether he can understand it on a conscious level or not, my son, for example, is a happier person when he is in a familiar routine, like school. What to do with all this free time? My husband and I try to make sure we have one activity in the morning and one in the afternoon, with a quiet time in the middle of the day. The activities are not huge or involved if we can help it– it may be taking a family walk, going to the grocery store, picking out the Christmas tree, going to the library– just enough to get out of the house without killing ourselves in the process. Movie nights are also not out of the question when we all need extra downtime!

3. The Food. [Collective grunt…. ] Parents of a highly sensitive child are no strangers to sensitive, picky eaters. But try to breathe a sigh of relief. I’m going to give you permission to let go of the pressure here. While your extended family may be gobbling turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, your HSC might not want to partake in all the new foods. While others will likely regard this as rude or as you being ‘too easy or soft,’ I’m here to tell you that it is perfectly fine to bring your child’s favorite meal or side dish. After all, isn’t the point of a family gathering for everyone to happily spend time together? Is it so bad to bring mac n’ cheese for your HSC if it means she’ll actually eat and feel good about herself, sitting along with her cousins and grandparents? If you receive judge-y looks, try to shrug them off and remember I’m right there with you. You are doing what’s best for your family– and that will look different for different people– though there are some who will never, ever understand this.

4.  Rehearse. Prepping your HSC for likely encounters or experiences will go a long way in smoothing out the season. Role play opening gifts and how to say ‘thank you’ even if she doesn’t like a present (it’s bound to happen!). Explain what the day will look like, especially if there’s travel involved. Likely, your HSC will sense that others disapprove of their strong reactions or observational nature, so remind him that you are proud of him and that he is loved, even in the midst of a hard, stressful day; this helps all of us get through it, even if there are tantrums or tears along the way.

Finally, to anyone reading this who doesn’t have an HSC, thank you for trying to better understand our children! Please try to remember that at least a few of your loved ones probably are highly sensitive (whether they know it or not), and try to cut them some slack during this crazy time of year.

It’s my wish for ALL of you to experience Happy Holidays!

Suggested Further Reading: Elaine Aron’s, The Highly Sensitive Child.
My post about Highly Sensitive Children.

What about you? How have you changed holiday traditions to meet the unique needs of your children?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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3 thoughts on “Holidays with a Highly Sensitive Child”

  1. Thank you so much for writing this post I loved it. This completely describes why we’re staying home and having our own family Christmas. I don’t know if others will understand but that’s not my concern my son is. I will take him to his preschool Christmas party for as long as it’s comfortable for him. Last year we did what was expected and it was a very long three days to say the last with sensory related meltdowns with being out of routine. This year will be sleeping in, cuddling, sipping hot chocolate and family movie time. I’m so looking forward to our annual pj day that we didn’t get to experience last year. Some people may not understand highly sensitive children that may or may not have sensory disorders but I do I live with it everyday. Thank you for helping me feel less alone. ????

    1. Wow, I’m so glad this personally resonated with you, jsackmom (a fellow contributor to Never Will I Ever!). It makes me feel less alone every time I read a similar story to ours. I only wish I had learned about high sensitivity earlier on when I was struggling to figure out some of my son’s challenges. Being able to advocate for your child is a huge deal, and I think sensitive kids like ours can truly sense it when we have their back, even when that means avoiding situations that others gravitate toward.

      1. It really did, I went above my better judgement and did what was expected of me and exposed my son’s to more sensory overload than anticipated! This year I’ve made it my commitment to keep them happy and regulated and we’ve chosen to stay home and let that happen. I’ve read so much about high sensitivity and SPD and I know that the hoopla of the holidays is even too much for me most days. Reading your post solidified to my emotional psyche on doing the right thing for my children and allowing us to have a truly happy Christmas! I’m so proud to be a fellow contributor with you in Never will I ever. What a fabulous book with so much talent in one place! Wishing you a beautiful Christmas from my house to yours. ????❤️????????

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