7 Ways to Have a Sensory Friendly Thanksgiving

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As Thanksgiving celebrations approach, you may worry about how to make the holidays enjoyable for your sensory-sensitive child (or even yourself). Although many people enjoy Thanksgiving, celebrating and spending time with family and friends; for many children, and adults, contribute to sensory overload and stress. Thanksgiving can be a particular challenge for children with sensory processing disorder or autism. The change in routine, interacting with extended family members, big, noisy, boisterous dinner tables and visiting other people’s homes is often overwhelming. A sensory-friendly Thanksgiving helps solve the problem of holiday sensory overload.

This blog post shares 7 ways you can create a sensory-friendly Thanksgiving for your family this year.

How to host a Sensory Friendly Thanksgiving

Plan in advance.

The first and most important step of creating a sensory-friendly Thanksgiving is preparing in advance. It is important to recognize that Thanksgiving celebrations interrupt your usual routine. Examples of changes in routine may mean your child stays up later than usual, goes to bed later and has less sleep. At Thanksgiving, you are likely to eat different foods. Furthermore, you may be traveling and visiting family in their homes. As well, you may be visiting family and friends who you do not see frequently. Ultimately, all these changes lead to increased levels of stress.

Therefore, it is important to prepare your child well before Thanksgiving. If you are traveling to a different zone, adjust sleep and wake times, even by 15 minute intervals, a few days it advance. It will help you too! Introduce and practice eating unfamiliar Thanksgiving foods before the big day. Practice social skills, like how to greet unfamiliar family members. Look at pictures and videos of past Thanksgivings to remind your child of what to expect. And encourage your child to “play” Thanksgiving. Children learn through play and practice many skills through play. Finally talk about Thanksgiving and what to expect and give your child an opportunity to ask questions about their expectations, to.

Additionally, consider ways that you plan to make the event a little less stressful for child. For example, if you know that your child enjoys a specific type of food, bring it along to your Thanksgiving dinner. Including things that are familiar help everyone adapt to new experiences.

Communicate your own Sensory Friendly Thanksgiving to family and friends ahead of time.

If you are planning on celebrating a Sensory Friendly Thanksgiving with family members and friends, it is important to let everyone know what to expect. So if you are adding some sensory-friendly features to you home or Thanksgiving meal giving everyone attending a quick heads up goes a long way to making everyone comfortable. A short email, text or “orientation” to the household when they arrive, are easy strategies.

Create a sensory-friendly quiet room.

Consider adding a sensory-friendly quiet room or space in your home. Post some rules, add a sign. Let children (and adults) know that there is a space to talk a break from boisterous fun and noise. Make it a silent zone. Have some comfy seating. Dimmed lights are a nice option too. You can even make it screen free! Add some things like weighted lap pads and noise-cancelling ear muffs. Adding pillows, blankets and a little tent for a blanket “fort” can be both fun and relaxing.

Incorporate calming strategies.

In addition to creating a sensory-friendly space, you can also incorporate other calming strategies into your Thanksgiving celebration. Include sensory-friendly toys like fidgets for children. Have everyone (adults, too!) do group yoga or a little meditation. Instead of a downward dog pose, call it bending turkey. Make your meditation about gratitude and giving thanks.

Family gathered at dinner table during sensory-friendly Thanksgiving.

Incorporate movement breaks.

Furthermore, adding in movement breaks for helps manage energy and stress. The easiest movement break is a walk. Go on a all-family walk outdoors around your neighborhood. Create expected routines, for example, where children go outside when the adults are washing up the crystal and china! Consider a walk just before the big meal too! It will help settle everyone one down before dinner, and give the host and helpers a few minutes to add last minute touches (and maybe put their feet up for 5 minutes, too).

Organize Sensory Friendly Thanksgiving activities.

Alternatively, you can organize different sensory-friendly Thanksgiving activities for your guests. This may involve arts and crafts or creating sensory boxes.

Host Thanksgiving in your own home.

Lastly, another suggestion to help to create a more sensory-friendly is to host Thanksgiving at your home. For many children with sensory sensitivities, going to unfamiliar homes can be extremely overwhelming and confusing. By hosting Thanksgiving in your home, you ensure that your child is comfortable in their own space.

We wish you a happy, sensory-friendly Thanksgiving!

Are you a parent interested in learning more about ways to celebrate other seasonal holidays in a sensory-friendly way, then check out:

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