Keep Calm... Treat On

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

With the holiday season fast approaching, we begin to see the excitement build up in children.  This time of year seems to bring a bit more energy into the younger population, as the adults labor over their to-do lists and feel as if they have a decrease in energy.  At this time of year, this unbalanced energy supply can make it more difficult to keep children focused and on task during school and therapy sessions. For some of our children the lack of routine, increased stress, and extra excitement from celebrations and increased treats, makes it more difficult for them to get regulated.

As therapists, or other adults working with these children, we need to find a way to connect, keep them focused, and make our time together purposeful.  Here are just a few ideas to help keep the therapeutic purpose in our work during the holiday season.

Self-Examine:  First and foremost, you need to think about yourself and self-examine your behaviors during this time.  How are you dealing with the stress of the holidays, the ongoing list of things to do, and your lack of structure and routine?  When working with these children, you need to do your best to put on your "therapist" hat. You have this child for a short amount of time during the day, so give it your best to stay focused, patient, and connected. Utilize your own stress management techniques and try to carry that over to the child during their sessions.  You may find that, even as an experienced therapist now is a good time to have a developed activity plan versus 'winging' it.   

Use Calming Techniques:  You already have the tools, so use them.  Even if your child is not typically a high arousal child, the holidays may bring out that side.  So utilize the tools to address decreasing arousal and improving self-regulation.  Oral activities that encourage breathing, blowing, and sucking, such as blowing a Christmas-shaped marshmallow through a maze with a straw.  Use weighted items as needed, such as a weighted 'elf' vest, delivering Santa's weighted presents (weighted balls), or smashing their bodies with a rolling snowball (therapy ball).  Instrumental holiday music and brushing are other great additions to help calm, but still stay in a festive mood.

Be Creative:  Although you may feel that you cannot add another thing onto your plate, using the inspiration of the holidays to be creative and tie into your therapy sessions can be helpful.  This will also help you to have a plan, while still bringing in some extra fun to your treatment sessions.  Using activity books, Pinterest ideas, and other resources, it truly is not hard to alter activities to be holiday-themed.

Support Your Families:  During the next month, whether you treat in the schools, a clinic, or another setting, there will be days of shortened or missed sessions.  Help equip your families with ideas and suggestions that are needed for their child to maintain a home program that is reasonable.  Strategies and activities to help them find the peace and calmness in the holiday season will be the best gift you can give.   Many families have a difficult time during the holidays due to their child's sensory issues, so helping them with ideas, developing social stories, and working through ideas during sessions can be helpful. Make sure you take the time to have the conversation about the more difficult parts of the holidays so that you can be an active contributor.  

So, as we will turn the calendar page to December, let's not see the holiday season as a work stress...Keep Calm, Treat On!