SPD (sensory processing disorder) is part of our lives now. It just is. It affects how we do things, what’s even possible, and how our kids will react to something at any given time. It’s an added facet of our lives that we have to consider especially when it interacts with sensory overexcitabilities. And right now, we’re dealing with the Christmas tree ordeal.
Notice I said ordeal. Not fun tradition or excited holiday decorating. Nope, it’s an ordeal.
The kids love it. I love it. Mr. Genius would be quite happy without it because it means extra work. So it’s not that we don’t like the decorations, it’s what happens when we introduce something new with lights (a trigger) and things to touch (another trigger.) Imagine a family with 3 toddlers and a Christmas tree – that’s us. Except our kids are 5, 3.5, and 2. Some toddler in there, sure, but he’s SPD too.
My kids are both sensory seeking and sensory aversion. I’ve often wished that we had more aversions in there when it comes to things-we-should-not-touch. Instead, it’s full seeking behaviors with predictable results. Things are groped, pulled off the tree, trundled around the house and cuddled in a loving manner, and dropped/kicked/squished/loved until they die. Usually in little pieces or shards that could harm someone.
I’ve given up thinking of the tree as a beautiful holiday decoration, and started thinking of it as a sensory experience combined with learning opportunities.
Not your normal tree
Our tree looks different from most family’s trees and that’s ok. I’ve made some changes so that we have a sensory supportive tree that hopefully won’t hurt anyone unless it falls on them (that’s happened.) We have an artificial tree now (booo!) and that’s helped a lot with the mess factor when kiddos decide to shake the tree. The dog appreciates not getting perforated intestines from the needles too, so that’s a plus.
What do we do differently?
We use a mix of blinking and solid, it’s a 4:1 ratio. Less blinking means less triggers. The kids love the blinking lights, but I don’t love what happens when they’re overstimulated by them. We also have all LED lights so that we limit the possibility of glass bulbs breaking or coming off when kids play with them. That helps with the possibility of electric shock because of the LED design. Ever been shocked by Christmas lights? Not a fun sensory experience.
We gave up on decorative glass ball ornaments years ago because kids. Anything extremely breakable or heirloom is packed away until they’re 18 or so. Anything that I want to protect goes on the top of the tree and is clamped down as much as possible with a hook. Anything on the bottom is fair game, and I can throw it away when it gets broken without a regret. Because we’re talking about kids who can easily break a wooden abacus or a baby gate, I’m extremely realistic about what needs protection.
We don’t do ornaments that sing, light up, spin, or do anything fun, because they would never.leave.it.alone. I guess you could call our style simple craftsy. Emphasis on simple.
Making our own:
As you might have guessed, I’m not buying a lot of fancy ornaments for our tree. We do have a tradition of a yearly ornament, but we’re taking it slow so that the top of the tree isn’t crammed full. I’ve started ordering our annual family picture ornament in a metal print for durability too. Instead of buying, we make. One year we did a ton of salt dough ornaments and painted them. Silver stars with glitter, cars and trains with metallic paints, and a gorgeous Christmas tree that the Engineer managed to blend paint on for a lovely color swirl.
Last year we made ribbon Christmas trees with beads, and tried our hand at nail polish swirling inside a ball ornament. This year we’re doing leaf rubbings with watercolor resists, and the Engineer asked to make dough ornaments again (I’m trying the spice kind this time for a scent component.) Before kids, I made beaded dragonflies and bead drops for the tree, and the kids think they’re wonderful.
Because we have so many salt dough ornaments, they go on the bottom of the tree. If the kids break a few, it’s not a huge big deal. We can always make more! Our favorite dough ornaments go on the top, along with the dough handprint and footprint from the Princess and Destroyer that year.
A little sad
At first it really bothered me that we can’t have lovely things around the house. This is 2e – this is our life. It’s not just Christmas, it’s all year round. Meltdowns and impulse control issues have destroyed more things than I can count. A few measly Christmas ornaments aren’t going to tip the scales much, honestly.
What matters to me is that my kids get to enjoy the holiday without having to worry that they broke mom’s priceless ornament. Sure, we’ll pull the breakables out when they’re older, but for now, simple is best.