Wishing you a Polyvagal Christmas!

AKA: Supporting your sensitive child through the festive season.

My children have been asking how long until Christmas since blinking Hallowe’en, thanks to retailers and commercial hype, as well as the school term.

Hopefully you’ve got through that horrific end of term rush, with concerts, nativity plays, Christmas jumper days Christmas fairs, etc. That can be stressful enough for parents, who are expected to drop everything and attend these functions, but think of the pressure on children, not to mention potential for overwhelm in our sensitive children.

Once school is out for Christmas, this can be a hectic time of year, with families having enormous get-togethers and children therefore often outside their usual comfort zones, coupled with late nights and a lack of routine for a couple of weeks.

Feeling “safe” is key to combating overwhelm. That is why some people feel the need to stay in bed for hours to rest in the morning. It’s also why children – ALL children – thrive on routine of some kind.

However, I do believe that at this time of year, with its extremely short, dark days, is for us, as mammals, to hibernate. Lots of sleep and time together should be restorative, and it’s best to try not to impose too many expectations on your child if you know they struggle in unfamiliar situations.

When someone doesn’t feel safe, their senses are bombarded and they get quickly overwhelmed. They may, for example, suddenly develop awkward eye contact and tunnel vision, and not be able to process sound as normal. This is actually a manifestation of the Moro and FPR reflexes, which cause sensory processing difficulties.

Some practical ways to help a child to self regulate when suffering from overwhelm

During a short period of adjustment for a few days or a couple of weeks, there are few things you can do to help a child feel safe in the world by toning the vagus nerve.

  • Practice deep breathing: in to a slow count to four through the nose, out to a slow count to eight through the mouth
  • Encourage humming
  • Encourage singing
  • Baroque music – in particular a Vivaldi lute concerto
  • Brain Gym Hook-ups
  • Cat arches are a wonderful yoga movement for calming an anxious child (or adult!) and helping them focus, especially accompanied by some lovely breathing – not to be confused with RMTi cat arches, however!

Additional activities you can try for dealing with meltdowns, sleep and digestive disturbances are:

  • snow angels
  • star jumps
  • get your child to lie like a star and slowly fold right up into a ball, like an anenome, then back to a star – repeat several times
  • roll a ball up and down a wall with the back
  • doing silly walks – have a competition
  • play row, row, row your boat with another child or you
  • do push ups against a wall

I wish you a very Happy, Polyvagal Christmas.

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