When Holidays Bring Sensory Challenges and Worries

Cinnamon scents. Bustling shoppers. Joyous music. Holiday visitors. Schedule changes. Lights blinking.

Holidays can be a sensory, anxiety-ridden nightmare for some children. 

The holidays can be frustrating for children sensitive to sensory stimulation or anxious thoughts. Add holiday spontaneity and change of routine to the mix and there's a potential recipe for outbursts, breakdowns, and tantrums, making for a less than pleasurable holiday season.

Fortunately, there are practical helps parents can use to lessen the stress of a season.

Anticipate. Children can quickly become overwhelmed by the sights, smells, sounds, textures and emotions of holiday festivities. In addition, anxious feelings--the unknown why, how, what, who, and when--may add additional concerns. Pondering the possibilities for your family's holiday activities and schedule may be extremely helpful in preventing holiday meltdowns. Are there events, activities, or food items which could easily be eliminated to make the season less stressful? Could limiting or staggering activities and visits with known triggers be advantageous? Three common elements to anticipate: 

  • Interpersonal interactions. Holiday visiting can be stressful. Some children worry about talking to guests. Others are concerned they won't know the guests and therefore feel uncomfortable. Knowing your child's unique thinking pattern, anticipating his or her concerns, and helping to process feelings associated with those apprehensions are beneficial in beating holiday anxieties. One way to coach a child through interpersonal fears is to prepare ahead of time. Talk about who will or won't be at an event. Processing thoughts and feelings often helps to reduce anxiousness and over time offers children life skills to work toward self-regulation. I know parents who chose to host a holiday party in the child's home where the safety and familiarity of home helps lessen anxiety. Being in the home, the child has the ability retreat to a quiet place for a short time, if needed. This is a great option for some families. Demanding interpersonal communication is generally not the best solution and could actually bring on guilt. Many children who struggle with anxious thoughts are able to conceptualize the cause and effect of not communicating. In fact, they often understand that not talking to or acknowledging a person could have relational consequences. As a result, they may feel guilty about their inability to communicate. And, what about those unexpected visitors? When an unexpected visitor comes to the home, a child who is anxious around people but feels safe knowing the parent will respond if needed, will eventually be able to work through the uncomfortable feelings. As the child experiences his or her ability to regulate his or her anxiety, confidence and resilience grows. In turn, the child becomes better able to regulate through--even predict--anxious times. 
  • Sensory input. The holidays are packed with sensory experiences--sound, texture, smell, taste, and emotions. Knowing which sensory triggers may upset a child can be helpful when planning and scheduling. For example, three hours of light sighting may be too much, while driving by a few houses to and from normal errands might be more enjoyable. 
  • Food sensitivities. Holidays include yummy foods. Monitoring sugar, food dyes, and caffeine--which become stimulants in some children--may  be helpful. In children with heightened sensitives and anxiety, these items can be doubly troublesome. Talking with your children about how these things make them feel--shaky, jittery, nervous, heart-racing--they may be more likely to understand how to make better food choices. Again, this is another step in providing empowerment to children who tend toward anxious thoughts and actions. Pondering daily triggers offers insight to potential holiday obstacles. If your gluten-sensitive child is invited to a Christmas party, consider sending an alternative treat option. If your family has been invited to Grandma's house and you know there will be a vast selection of soda pop, consider bringing a beverage your child enjoys to add to the collection. We have also used these occasions to help our children process options prior to arriving. These conversations include talking about how to choose wisely, offering insight to how a particular food has caused a trigger reaction in the past, and brainstorming solutions to how to react graciously should certain foods be served. 

Prepare. Preparation is powerful. Talking with children ahead of time--in the car on the way to an event or offering time for children to share concerns the night before a big day--can help ward off anxiety and and stress. Knowing the schedule of events--for some children--can ward off anxiety. However, if your child can only comprehend small chunks, preparation may be your constant companion. Talking through upcoming events--or events which have passed--models for a child how he or she can begin to learn to self-prepare. With preparation, outbursts from over stimulation may be avoided. 

Observe. When the parent intentionally observes behavior and considers how that behavior may be related to particular situations, the parent is able to help a child not only process and work through the situation but also help the child recognize personal triggers. Knowing the triggers, the parent can further help a child work with those triggers to lower anxious thoughts. 

Limit. Let's face it, all of us--children and adults--have a tipping point, a point when holiday festivities become stressful. Consider the challenges your child faces on a daily basis. Perhaps there is a heightened awareness to smell or lighting. Maybe there is a sensitivity to food dyes or even anxious feelings around strangers. Use those daily challenges as a guide for what might have to be limited during the holiday season and plan accordingly. 

Model (self-regulation, self-control). My children--all of them--have benefited from my purposeful external processing. In other words, when I find myself in a situation which requires self-regulation or control, I process my thinking. For example, if we are visiting another family's home for a holiday dessert, while on the car ride to the home, I might say, "When I arrive at Mrs. Smith's home, I know she will have many yummy desserts to choose from. I will be tempted to sample everything. Instead, I am going to choose the two desserts I would most enjoy. And, I must also remember that nuts give me headaches. So, I probably will not choose anything with nuts, even if it is my favorite." This type of processing allows children opportunities to "hear" how other people process through decisions but also how people regulate or control their choices.

Sleep. It is easy to overload the holidays, staying up late to make the most of the hours in our days. In addition, with the excitement, children--like adults--are often fearful they will miss something should they fall asleep. The results are wide-eyed children awake long after the regular bed time. Being overtired can heighten sensitivities. When looking over the holiday schedule, consider how many late nights your family will be able to handle. Remember, children are not the only ones who will benefit by making sure sleep is a priority. 

We will not be able to ward off every potential challenge for our children. However, creating an environment--even during the holiday season--where children feel safe and listened to will help them overcome low to moderate levels of sensory stimulation or anxiety. When in fact, reality brings an unexpected--or even an anticipated--stressful situation, helping children process through the challenge will allow them to learn how to self-regulate. This learning is not only a welcomed treat during the holiday season, but also a life gift. 

 

 

 

 

 

Foreign Language in High School: Questions YOU Need to Ask

In Part I, I shared common concerns homeschooling parents have in regards to high school foreign language requirements. 

We learned what questions we might need to ask as we walked the foreign language journey. In fact, when our family began researching foreign language possibilities twelve years ago,  we knew nothing about what questions to ask or to whom we should ask our questions.

Our journey was hands-on and experiential--just like yours--meaning we learned by walking through the experience and making mistakes.

In this post, I hope you can learn--not only from our experiences--but the experiences of hundreds of families with whom we have encouraged. These are only samples of the questions YOU may find necessary to ask dependent upon your unique situation. 

The foreign language journey with our first was fairly uneventful. Four of his five top university choices required two consecutive years of the same foreign language. By making sure he completed two years of the same language we would meet the requirements of every school in which he was interested. 

It is also helpful to know that our son did not want to dual enroll, so that was not an option. Therefore, we researched every other potential avenue. In the end, he simply completed two years of Spanish with FLVS, an online public school.

During his senior year, he applied to six colleges in total, all required two years of the same language. In the end, he chose a local four-year university honors college. At the end of his senior year, the university requested I send the final copy of his parent-generated transcript. 

Two weeks later, I received a letter in the mail. 

"Your high school foreign language credits have been verified from a valid source. We have waived the undergraduate foreign language graduation requirements."

Fantastic! We didn't see this coming. Of all the homeschooling high school meetings and conference workshops I had attended, no one had ever mentioned there was a potential for a college to use the earned high school foreign language credits to fulfill undergraduate requirements (outside of dual enrollment). We were pleasantly surprised and grateful!

Lesson learned: High school foreign language courses may be used to fulfill the undergraduate foreign language requirement IF the courses are taken from an entity approved by the college. 

Ask: From what entity could a student take foreign language and earn both high school and undergraduate college foreign language credit, aside from dual enrollment?

From our lesson with the first grad, our second son charted an intentional plan. Knowing university language courses can be more difficult due to depth of subject and amount of content covered in each class, we brainstormed with our young adult potential language options. He chose to follow the same path as his brother and take two years with the public online school. When he applied to attend a local state college, the admissions department asked for verification (transcript from the online school) that the foreign language was completed. They waived the foreign language requirement for his AA. Yes!

Interestingly, once our son earned his AA and continued seamlessly to the four-year university for the completion of his Bachelors degree (the same one from which our first graduated), I received a letter in the mail. 

"Please submit the final high school transcript so that we may verify completion of high school foreign language."

Our second son had his AA and BS foreign language requirements waived because we had taken the foreign language from a source each school considered valid. 

Side note here for those who wonder if the high school transcript is ever needed after earning an AA. In some cases (like this one), YES! 

When our third high schooler began to consider foreign languages, knowing what we experienced with the first two graduates, her primary consideration...get it done in high school!

She, however, had an interest in American Sign Language. We had to look for an entity where she could learn ASL fluently.  Interestingly, as we were deciding next steps, an email came from a friend, a certified interpreter, who was offering ASL 1 the coming year. I knew from research some universities won't recognize ASL as a foreign language. If they did recognize ASL as a language, they may not accept the means by which it would be taught.

As a mom, knowing what my daughter might face, I was hesitant to let her pursue this interest. 

Yet, I knew ASL was a genuine interest and I wanted my daughter to have an opportunity to learn a language that mattered to her. We researched. I connected with one college asking if they would accept ASL as a foreign language. Indeed, the college verified in writing via email that they would accept the ASL. My daughter took the class, realizing that though one college of choice accepted the credit, another may not. They would not, however, used her ASL course to fulfill the university foreign language requirement for her undergraduate degree. 

But remember, every situation is unique and individual depended upon the career and college choices. For example, last week, a family contacted me with a similar situation. A homeschooled high schooler had actively participated in the deaf ministry at their church where the student interacted and communicated with attendees who were deaf. Other studies were completed. The local state college told the family the student's studies would not likely be accepted for credit. 

Again, what one college deems acceptable for foreign language, another may not. Ask questions. 

What about learning challenges?

A student  we know sought accommodations for learning challenges. The student was eager to attend college, however knew accommodations would be needed to be successful. The educational psychologist recommended the student, due to the significant learning challenges--dyslexia and dysgraphia--should be allowed to take a substitute course for foreign language.  

Research and testing--on adult scales which most college require--provided information regarding documented learning challenges and foreign languages. In regards to significant learning disabilities and current, accurate documentation, some colleges may waive or offer substitute courses toward foreign language requirements. This is not true of all schools and is highly variable school to school. Therefore, parents must inquire and must be able to provide psychological reports as needed. 

Ask: Are college admission foreign language requirements waived--or are substitute courses accepted--for students with documented learning disabilities (on adult scales)? 

When we began our high school journey we had no idea what foreign language questions to ask. In most cases, we learned along the way, either by personal experience or the experience of families with whom we work closely. 

And, with two current high schoolers (and several on behind) we are likely to learn even more.

Do you have experience with high school foreign languages which my help readers? Please share in the comments.  

Up next, Part III.

 

This blog post is intended to offer an example of personal experience. It is in no way intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Parents own the sole responsibility for the training and education of their children.