May 17, 2024
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May 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Dear Occupational Therapist, my 5-year old with sensory processing and regulation difficulties has such a hard time during the chagim. Every activity is a battle. Getting dressed; going to shul; having meals with our extended family. What can I do to help him (and me) over yom tov?

Children with sensory processing and regulation difficulties (heretofore known as SPD) thrive on routine. During the chagim, we are completely off our routine and this can be very stressful for our children. Here are some suggestions to help you through this beautiful, but sometimes very challenging time period for our families:

Let your child know what the schedule will be for that day at the beginning of the day, or even better, give them a heads up the night before. For example, “In the morning, after you wake up, we will have breakfast and you can play until 10:00, then we will all get dressed and go to shul.” It is easier than you think to do this throughout the day.

If you are attending a new shul or going to be a guest at someone else’s home over the holidays, ask your child what toy she would like to bring to make her feel more comfortable in this new setting.

During the meal, if you see your child becoming overstimulated, suggest that you would like him to give you a tour of the playroom and go help your child find a comfortable place to play.

Maintain as regular a bedtime as possible. Making sure that your child is not overtired is crucial for helping her cope with challenges.

Make sure your child is eating nutritiously over the holiday. Our children tend to eat a lot of candy and this can make them CRAZY. Have food options that they like with you to ensure that they are eating.

Please give your child guided choices. Options, within reason, can help give our children an appropriate sense of control at a time when he feels so out of control. Simple choices such as between two outfits; between two types of chicken, or if they want the red one or blue one (of whatever) can be empowering.

Bring along some items that are sensory comforting to your child. Maybe a small bag of squishy items or a soft toy animal. What about some crunchy pretzels or some chewy sour bears?

If you have long walks to shul or to your hosts, consider having your child ride a scooter instead of walking (ask your local Rabbi….)

Be consistent and follow through. If you promise your child that she will get a special prize after lunch for sitting nicely, make sure you give it. Otherwise you lose credibility.

Play dates, while they can help keep your child entertained and occupied, should be kept short, especially for younger children, as many children with SPD have difficulty maintaining an even disposition when play dates go on too long.

Be empathetic. This is a wonderful time of year for our families but can be stressful for all of us. We are cooking and cleaning and there’s so much time in shul. We are all off schedule and this combination, however great it is, can be overwhelming. Now imagine our children who have not yet developed their own coping mechanisms. It can be significantly more stressful for them. They deserve our empathy as well as our actions to guide them so that their yom tov is fun and special just as we’d hope they would be. Shana tova!

By Alyssa Colton and Aviva Lipner

Alyssa Colton MA, OTR/L and Aviva Lipner MA, OTR/L are sisters and owners of Kids’ Therapy Place, LLC. They are an occupational therapy practice for children and specialize in working with children and their families to enhance their lives and maximize function. For more information visit their website www.kidstplace.com

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