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Does your child struggle visiting Santa? For many children, going to see Santa is overwhelming. Visiting Santa can cause stress and anxiety. It can contribute to sensory overload. Children with sensory disorders or autism, visiting Santa is challenging because it is a sensory-rich experience. Your child may be upset, and not want to participate. Ultimately, as a parent, you may feel exhausted and frustrated. unenjoyable. However, there are strategies to help make visiting Santa a success for both you and your child.
Why is visiting Santa Claus a sensory-rich experience?
First of all, it is important for parents to understand why their sensory sensitive child feels overwhelmed visiting Santa. In many communities, visiting Santa Claus takes place in shopping malls or large community centers. As a result, these environments are sensory-rich. Shopping malls and community centers overwhelm the senses.
For example, in a shopping mall, there are often many people lined up to see Santa. Consequently, there is more noise. Additionally, Christmas music is likely playing in the background. Moreover, Christmas and holiday décor is often brightly lit, with flashing lights, too. Furthermore, some locations add scents and smells, or Santa is near a food court. All of these sensory factors combined make the location sensory rich.
How to have a successful Santa Claus visit
Do you wonder, how can I make this sensory-rich event comfortable for my child? There are several, simple tips that will help your child enjoy visiting Santa.
Look at photos from past visits to Santa Claus
The first suggestion is to look at photos (or videos) you have from previous Santa visits prior to attending the event. Reminisce about the visit together with your child. Ask your child questions about what they remember. Also, ask questions about what your child liked. Furthermore, ask questions about what your child didn’t like. You can then plan how to address those dislikes, together.
Help your child practice visiting Santa Claus
Another suggestion to help your child prepare for visiting Santa is through play or even role-playing. Children learn through play. Moreover, children understand and practice new experiences through play. Play is a powerful tool to help your child adjust and prepare for new, or unfamiliar experiences. For instance, your child can practice lining up to see Santa. Include your child’s toys to add some depth to the long line! Practice what your child will say to Santa. Let your child hear some of the things Santa might say to your child. Give your child the opportunity to ask questions about visiting Santa through play.
Visit during sensory-friendly hours
Many shopping centers now offer sensory-friendly shopping hours. Sensory-friendly shopping hours are special, designated times with changes made to the sensory experience at the location. For instance, crowds are limited, background noises turned off and bright lights dimmed. Visiting Santa during sensory-friendly shopping hours will help manage your child’s sensory experience for the better.
Look for a Sensitive Santa event
Another suggestion to help make visiting Santa enjoyable for your child is to choose a Sensitive Santa event. Sensitive Santa events make changes to the visit to Santa itself to make it more sensory-friendly. For example, there will be fewer children lined up to see Santa, appointments are often pre-booked in small numbers. Furthermore, background music will be turned off. In addition, staff, including Santa, will likely have completed additional training. Your child will be invited to participate as much or as little as they want. Ultimately, a Sensitive Santa event ensures that children feel more relaxed while interacting with Santa, and creates a calm experience.
Visit Santa Claus when the location or event is less busy
You many not find sensory-friendly shopping hours at a mall, or a Sensitive Santa event. Another suggestion is visiting Santa on the least busy day and at the least busy time. For instance, when the event first opens. Or on a weekday instead of the weekend. Call ahead and inquire about the least busy day or least busy time.
Similarly, look around for smaller Santa Claus Events in your community that are open to the public.
Organize your own sensory-friendly Santa Claus event
You can also organize your own sensory-friendly visiting Santa event. We have a free, resource a downloadable guide Sensitive Santa Event to walk you through the steps.
Change your expectations
Changing your expectations as a recommendation might seem hard, but it is the most important. It is critical to acknowledge that your child may not want to sit on Santa’s lap for a photo. Your child may not even want to visit Santa at all. So, change your expectations. Maybe your child will wave to Santa. Santa will assuredly wave back! That can be a delightful moment to capture. On the other hand, maybe you capture a great photo of Santa passing your child a candy cane. Regardless of how your child interacts with Santa, it is important to recognize and respect your child’s comfort,
Bring along sensory tools
Read, watch and listen to, “A Visiting Santa Story.”
At Sensory Friendly Solutions, we created a free resource, a sensory-friendly story that will help prepare your child for visiting Santa. It introduces the sensory experience and some of the social expectations in a fun way!
A Visiting Santa Story
Going to see Santa can be both exciting and overwhelming for children. We have created a special, sensory-friendly story for children to help them prepare. Get:
- An eBook you can view, save or print.
- A video of the eBook being read aloud.
Check out these 3 Parenting Tips for Staying Sane and Gentle During the Holidays. Alison Smith is a mom and parenting coach who helps parents with spirited children.
Do you want to encourage event organizers to offer a Sensitive Santa Event for children and families? Share this blog post with them:
And go one step further and give them this full guide:
How-to-Guide: Sensitive Santa
Create a visiting Santa Claus event that helps all children enjoy Santa is easy with this guide. Make Santa, “Sensitive” and sensory-friendly and you ensure smiles and joy all-around.
- Easy things for Santa to do that helps children when visiting.
- Simple ideas for the location to do before the event.
- Steps to take during the event.
Interested in learning other sensory-friendly tips during seasonal holidays? Find more help for your child and family:
- Choose a Sensory Friendly Santa Claus Parade for Your Child
- 5 steps to a Sensory Friendly Christmas
- 4 Tips to Manage Sensory Overload and Holiday Stress
- 6 Ways To Have a Sensory-Friendly Fireworks Show for Your Child
- Create a Sensory-Friendly Easter Egg Hunt
- 10 Tips for a Sensory-Friendly Easter Bunny Visit
- 7 Ways to Have a Sensory Friendly Thanksgiving
- Make Halloween Sensory Friendly for your Child
- A Sensory Friendly Birthday Party in 10 Easy Steps
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Christel Seeberger has worked in health care for 30 years, including helping people with sensory sensitivity who experience sensory overload. Christel has a hearing disability and experiences sensory sensitivity and sensory overload herself. She founded Sensory Friendly Solutions in 2016 to make the world more sensory-friendly, accessible and inclusive.