Leah Smith, OTR/L

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for South Louisianians. Mardi Gras season is upon us which means crawfish, king cakes, balls, and best of all PARADES! But for some parents parades mean sensory overload and inevitable public meltdowns for their kiddos. We’ve all been there of course, and we stand together in unity and support! But If you think of a parade from a child’s perspective: overly loud, bright colors, people in your personal space, noxious combinations of fried food smells, and beads and toys flying everywhere….parades can be a bit intimidating to say the least! Add in a sensory processing disorder, physical limitation, anxiety, or impulsiveness and it can seem like it’s just better to stay at home.

On the other hand, parades can be a great time for quality family time and lifelong memories, so if are up for giving it another try, here are few tips that might make your experience a little easier.

  • Practice makes perfect
    • Make sure your child is comfortable in large crowds prior to taking them to a parade. You could try going to the mall or a busy grocery store to practice having someone else in their comfort zone.
    • Start off at a family friendly smaller parade before progressing to a big one.
  • Let the good times role-play!
    • Watch videos of parades and have a pretend parade at home! Turn up some loud Mambo music, start a second line, and let the Mardi Gras beads fly. This can help to make an overwhelming idea seem fun and give your child an idea of what to expect before the parade.
    • You could even do a drive by or walk through of the area you know you will be in so they can really get a good picture of what to expect before the big day. This is a great idea too in case you need to scout out handicapped parking, wheelchair accessible curbs, or rest stops if your kid is easily fatigued with a long walk.
  • Get there early and scope out an area to “get away” from it all.
    • No matter how much practice and preparation you do, sometimes our kids can just get too overwhelmed in overstimulating environments. It’s a good idea to have an “escape plan” such as a bench a couple yards back from the crowd, or maybe even your car parked nearby so you can still see but not hear the parade.
  • Have a plan for how to deal with meltdowns
    • Whether before, during, or after the event, meltdowns sometimes just happen…to all of us! It helps to have a plan before the parade on how to help bring down those high emotions. If you have an occupational, physical, or speech therapist you work with, it might be a good idea to discuss calming techniques fit just for your kid. Try those techniques at home to see which works for calming your kiddo. For example, when my toddler has feelings that are just too big we use a deep breathing technique in which I tell her to “breath in through your nose and let your feelings come out of your mouth”. This helps her to focus on her breathing and not the thing that is distresses her.
  • Set your child up for success
    • One of the things your therapist might also suggest is to bring items from home that help to calm your child. This might include noise canceling headphones, sunglasses, a weighted vest, a fidget, etc. Again, you might want to try out some of these techniques at home to see what works for you child.
  • Transition with ease
    • For the kiddos that have a hard time ending the party think about how you can set a concrete parameter for a start and end time to your fun day. You could try using a visual timer on your phone so that when you are ready to go, your child has plenty of warning. You could also try bringing your own bag to fill with throws and once the bag is full it’s time to go.

The most important thing is to have reasonable expectations for your child. You are the expert on your child, and you know what your child can or cannot handle. Your day might not go exactly as you envisioned (maybe you get pelted in the face with beads like I always seem to manage) but at the end of the day you’ve made a memory you can forever share. So, get out there parents, catch some beads, eat fried everything, and brave the parade with your child!