Don't Let Misophonia Ruin Your Child's Holiday

Here are some tips for the season!

Posted Nov 26, 2018

Courtesy of Pexels
Source: Courtesy of Pexels

The holiday season is most certainly upon us! For many families this means gatherings, sometimes hosting family and friends in your home, and partaking in events that are often centered around eating. For many people this is a joyous time! For families dealing with Misophonia, however, the holidays can be challenging.

As an individual with Misophonia and a professional who helps others with coping skills, I know how difficult holidays can be. We want holiday time to be meaningful. As parents, we feel a special burden to provide our children with harmonious family holiday happenings. How do we do this within the context of Misophonia?

First, it is important to remember that the holiday season is exhausting for many people, and for many families! Throw Misophonia in the mix and the fatigue becomes greater. I always say that Misophonia seems to "wax and wane". When one is feeling well rested, one often does better. Therefore,  you may notice that your child is experiencing more difficulty than usual during this time.  Beyond the potential overload of "holiday noise" (by which I mean increased stimulation of all of the senses, not just auditory) it is likely that your child is off his or her normal sleeping schedule. Even though your child may have more opportunity to sleep (since he or she has school vacation) the change in routine may be overwhelming. As parents, with or without Misophonia, we often suffer the same experience.  The responsibility of holiday preparation and/or travel can cause a great deal of fatigue.

Here are some general suggestions that you may find helpful:

Adjust your expectations 

I am not saying lower your expectations, I am suggesting adjusting them. For example, make sure that within your family's busy schedule you provide down-time. Your child needs this, and I am sure you will find that you do as well. 

Be very careful when planning your holiday schedule, and know that it is acceptable to say "no" to guests coming over, and to visiting others as well. This doesn't mean that you and your family should isolate during the season. However, give yourself a break...literally 

Courtesy of Pexels
Source: Courtesy of Pexels

Always Prepare Your Child

Whether you are traveling, visiting others, or both, make sure to let your child know ahead of time what may be happening! 

  • To the extent that you are able, explain to your Misophonic child what to expect both situationally and emotionally. For example, "We are going to visit Grandma and Grandpa tomorrow. You may have some problems with Misophonia. I (or we) know this might be difficult for you. However, we are there to support you. Lets think of some things that you can do if you are triggered." This often alleviates the anticipatory anxiety that builds up when facing both unknown and/or known triggering situations. This also makes your child feel that you are "in this together." Even if sounds/sights emanating from you trigger your child, it is still helpful to frame Misophonia as an issue you are all working on together.
    • Allow your child to generate ideas about what might help him or her during the visit to his/her grandparents' home. Depending on your child's age/developmental stage support or refine these ideas. 
    • Make a list of the three "best" ideas and put them on an index card. This will make your child (and you) feel that there are options to at least try if the situation becomes too arduous. The exact nature of the options will of course vary regarding age and each family's circumstances. In general, however, this puts your child in the mindset of thinking of ways to help self-regulate in the face of triggers, and what to do if he/she cannot. You might be surprised by ideas your child generates. 
      • Some general ideas may include helping your child leave the room to reset his or her nervous system. Often agreeing on a signal between you and your child so that he or she can communicate distress helps to know when to do this, and also reduces anxiety. 
  • Bring a "go bag" filled with items that help your child self-regulate. Of course this contents of the go-bag depends upon each individual and family circumstances. Bringing coloring books, or even photos or drawings that your child can share with relatives is both distracting and incorporates movement. Remember, we process all sensory information differently when we are in motion. This is true of auditory and visual as well. 
    Courtesy of Pixabay
    Source: Courtesy of Pixabay
  • If your child benefits from sound generators or headphones, make sure to bring them. There is no easier time to forget something important than the holidays!
  • Break down the time your child will spend during a particular visit as best as you can. For example, "We will first be sitting in the living room, then we will go to the dinner table, and after that you will play with your cousins." This again, helps your child to prepare, and by segmenting the time, the visit may seem less overwhelming. 
    • It may also help your child for you to do a 15 or 30 minute check in. Depending again on the age of the child, "checking in" can make a child feel supported and less alone in his or her struggles. 
    • Always let your child know when he or she is doing a great job and if your child is experiencing difficulty, don't panic. It's a difficult paradox within which parents live. However, the calmer you are, the more likely your child will stay calm or return to homeostasis (when the body is calm). 
  • Allow your child to generate ideas about what might help him or her during the visit to his/her grandparents' home. Depending on your child's age/developmental stage support or refine these ideas. 
  • Make a list of the three "best" ideas and put them on an index card. This will make your child (and you) feel that there are options to at least try if the situation becomes too arduous. The exact nature of the options will of course vary regarding age and each family's circumstances. In general, however, this puts your child in the mindset of thinking of ways to help self-regulate in the face of triggers, and what to do if he/she cannot. You might be surprised by ideas your child generates. 
    • Some general ideas may include helping your child leave the room to reset his or her nervous system. Often agreeing on a signal between you and your child so that he or she can communicate distress helps to know when to do this, and also reduces anxiety. 
  • Some general ideas may include helping your child leave the room to reset his or her nervous system. Often agreeing on a signal between you and your child so that he or she can communicate distress helps to know when to do this, and also reduces anxiety. 
Courtesy of Pixabay
Source: Courtesy of Pixabay
  • It may also help your child for you to do a 15 or 30 minute check in. Depending again on the age of the child, "checking in" can make a child feel supported and less alone in his or her struggles. 
  • Always let your child know when he or she is doing a great job and if your child is experiencing difficulty, don't panic. It's a difficult paradox within which parents live. However, the calmer you are, the more likely your child will stay calm or return to homeostasis (when the body is calm). 

Don't dwell on the negative

 If a particular outing or experience at home with visitors goes poorly, don't dwell on it. Reassure your child (and yourself) that you gave it your best shot and that is all one can expect. 

Don't entertain other peoples' theories about your child (unless you find it helpful)

 I am sure we have all experienced well intended relatives and friends asserting their opinions about how our child behaves. Similarly, we have all been up against accusations suggesting that our child is  manipulating us, or that we are making up a disorder that doesn't exist. While this can be very upsetting, I have found that it is best to simply say..."Thank you very much for your advice/opinion. However, we are handling this issue the way we feel comfortable (or the way Dr. ------ suggested)". Then, offer to send them resources to read about Misophonia. I have found that once you kindly invite someone to read about Misophonia, they usually realize that they have "stepped on your toes" and will change the conversation. 

Throw guilt to the wind

 Any parent who has a child with difficulties is vulnerable to feeling guilty. While this is an easy trap to fall into, it doesn't help you, or your child. During the holidays feelings of guilt can be intensified as you try to provide your family with a "normal" holiday season. However, we must remember that a "normal holiday season" is socially constructed and difficult for many families to achieve! Many families (even those without children who have misophonia and/or other issues) experience holiday stress.

Avoid idealism

The holiday season is full of many wonderful possibilities. One does not have to partake in all of them in order to feel successful. In addition, parents should not feel guilty if the difficulties of Misophonia impede on the holidays. Instead, savor the good moments. Point out the positives to your child, and to you!   

To read a literature review on Misophonia Misophonia Literature Review

For a site dedicated to Parents of Children with Misophonia Misophonia Kids

For more articles by Dr. Jennifer Jo Brout Dr. Brout Publications