On Passover, everyone hears about the Four Sons: the wise son, the wicked son, the simple son and one who doesn’t know how to ask.
Why do you never hear about the son who accidentally spills every single one of the four cups of wine – and won’t eat the matzah because it’s too crunchy?
Every year before Passover time, we hear from the parents we work with about that son and daughter – and how the parents are dreading the upcoming holiday. Late seder nights that throw off their child’s routine. Lack of familiar foods. All manner of Unfamiliar foods with strange tastes and textures: too salty. Too bland. Too crunchy. Too mushy.
If you go away for Passover, the problems are often compounded. Different places. Strange people. Sheets, blankets and pillows that are too warm, fluffy or itchy.
And that’s BEFORE you have to deal with the reactions of everyone around you.
“Why is he behaving like that?”
“Can’t you control her?”
“I made so much food – there’s nothing he’ll eat?”
“I’m her grandmother – why is she acting like she doesn’t know me?”
Then there are those who say nothing, but often that’s worse. You can see them looking, can guess what they’re thinking, but you don’t even have the opportunity to explain.
There ARE ways to make Passover and any holiday season easier and more enjoyable for children with sensory integration issues (and their parents!). Here are some of the top tips that we share with the parents here at Hands on OT:
An ounce of planning is worth a pound of…
One thing common to many children with sensory integration issues is difficulty with transitions or unfamiliar situations. What can you do to ease the transition?
Make the unfamiliar as familiar as possible.
If you’re going to see relatives you haven’t seen in a while, show your child pictures in advance. Explain who the relatives are and how you’re connected to them. (“This is Aunt Rosie. She’s Mommy’s sister, just like Sara is your sister. She made you the fuzzy blue blanket you like to sleep with at night.)
Use puppet shows or role-playing to demonstrate and practice the interactions your child will have.
The Seder is the pinnacle of unfamiliar – it’s intended to be. After all, it’s the night that “is different from all other nights” in a multitude of ways. Prep your child. Explain the sequence of events. Get a children’s Haggadah with pictures and go through it together, then let him use that Haggadah on the night of the Seder. Some schools do a “model Seder” for their students. If your child’s school does not, do one yourself a few days before Passover.
Make the seder fit your child, not your child fit the seder.
The raison d’etre of the Seder is to give over the experience and message of the Exodus to our children. Each child needs a different approach, as the Four Sons passage is intended to convey. Spend time thinking about what approach your child needs. Stories? Pictures? Props? Acting out the building of the pyramids under the Egyptian taskmasters? Seeing the Plagues? Leaving Egypt with the matzahs on your backs? Singing and dancing?
Expecting a child to sit quietly while the adults have a formal Seder is not only unrealistic, but counter to the very purpose of the Seder.
Now, that’s all well and good when the Seder is in your own home. What if you’re guests at the formal Seder of relatives or in a hotel dining room with strangers? Work in what you can. Give your child books, pictures and props for him to engage with. In this case the preparation and knowing what to expect is even more important.
Keep everyone fed and hydrated.
The Seder starts late – and even once it starts, it’s a long time until your child will see any significant food. Feed your child early. Make sure they start the Seder on a full stomach – at the very least, not an empty one.
Being well-hydrated helps with transition issues. Give your child plenty to drink.
This sounds simple, but in practice can be difficult unless you’re making a concerted effort. Meal routine IS harder to maintain during Passover preparations and any activities you may be involved with on the holiday itself. If you want to enjoy the time and minimize stress, however, making sure your child eats and drinks at regular intervals is crucial. Plan mealtime, drinktime and snacktime into your preparation and activity schedule.
Don’t skip therapeutic activities.
If regular meals are hard to fit into the schedule during holiday season, your child’s exercises and other therapeutic activities all the more so! Every year on the first session following Passover, parents tell us how stressful the holiday period was with their child. “Did the exercises help?” we ask. The parents laugh ironically. “Exercises? We tried to find time for them, but… it was way too hectic.”
It’s a vicious cycle. The holidays make everything more hectic, and so there is no time for the exercises, or the sensory diet, or whatever therapeutic activity your child routinely does. Then the child has a hard time coping, and acts out, and life gets even more stressful, and then there’s CERTAINLY no time to do exercises…
Break the cycle. If you make sure that your child keeps up with the therapy that helps her year-round, your holidays will be that much more relaxed for everyone.
Don’t pressure yourself.
Your child WILL act up over Passover. She will. There’s no way around it. But how you experience it will depend mainly on YOUR attitude and emotional preparation.
Relax the pressure on yourself to perform, to impress your friends and family members with how well-behaved your children are. Try to integrate the attitude that “it’s okay if my family sees my kid acting crazy. If they want to judge or criticize it, that’s a reflection of THEIR limitations – not mine or my child’s.”
It’s easier said than done, but the more you integrate the attitude of acceptance, the more positive an experience YOU will have.
Enjoy your child!
Your child is special.
We work all day with children with sensory integration issues, and we find them to have some of the most fabulous personalities around. Use vacation and holiday time to enjoy your child’s personality and have fun together.
May you have a happy and healthy Passover!
-Amy and Evelyn