The happiest time of the year?

My oldest used to have a difficult time around the holidays. It was all too much for her to take in, and she didn’t know how to tell me what it was that caused her to act so unlike herself.

On day when she was four, I took her for a mommy-daughter date to do some Christmas shopping for her dad and sister. Things seemed to be going well. We had chosen items as possible gifts, and she was about to choose which ones were the keepers. We were talking and giggling, and I thought we were having an enjoyable time together.

Then, all of a sudden, she lost it.

I’m talking full-on screaming on the ground, thrashing, and kicking. I felt so lost as to what had happened, and stressed by how quickly things had fallen apart.

Since I thought our date was going well, this seemingly sudden blow-up really hit me in the gut.

I took some breaths for myself. To keep my focus on my daughter and off of the patrons shaking their heads as they walked by, I sat there muttering to myself that, “No one else matters but her.”

I just sat there, right in the middle of the aisle. Tears ran down my own cheeks and I simply said to her, “Take your time.”

This went on for 20 minutes. Twenty long minutes of her sobbing, me in tears, and I had no idea what caused it.

It honestly wasn’t until almost a year later, when she was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, that I finally understood. She was overstimulated. These actions were not sudden for her, but a build-up of being overloaded.


After the 20 minutes, she lay there on the floor. Face up, arm over her eyes, she spoke to me. “The lights are bright, Mama. The music is loud. I can’t make a choice about a gift. They should have them both.”

“Ok, Dolly. This is too much for you right now. Let’s go home and take some time to think about the gifts.”

A simple “Ok,” slipped from her mouth as warm, grateful tears streamed down her cheeks.

This time of year is always so busy. We shuffle from one fun event to another, and it’s so easy to forget in all the excitement that kids need time to decompress.

To get away from the in and out of friends and family members.

To have quiet from all the sounds of the holidays.

To eat their normal meals.

To have time and space to play, without interruption and without guidance.

To wear their regular clothes that they feel comfortable in.

To have their bedtime routines.

This can be the happiest time of the year, when we take the time to respect our children’s needs. We need to take a moment to ask them how they are feeling in new situations. They need space to decompress before pushing forward to another festivity.

This will look different for each child.

For my two girls, one needs space to cry while the other needs to be left alone.

Understanding what our children need, and then respecting their needs by giving them their space to find their calm, will help make the holidays the happiest time of the year, full of good memories.

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