The overwhelming social requirements of the holidays

The holiday season is supposed to be fun and it has a magical sense about it. It is no secret that the holiday season can bring about stress and frustration with relatives, friends, and social obligations.  For children with social skill issues, holiday demands and festivities can bring about an overwhelming sense of stress, frustration which can lead to meltdowns and tantrums.  As parents, how many of us hope and pray a tantrum doesn’t occur at the family gathering?  

Meltdown and tantrums occur when the child becomes overwhelmed with emotions or is having difficulty communicating their wants and needs such as hunger, tiredness, anxiety, or having pain.

Include your child in the preparation 

If you are hosting a holiday gathering have your child help decorate or make food.  This can help get them excited to have relatives and friends over.  Also, this is a great way to bond with your child prior to the event.

Create breaks

The holidays are often very busy full of activities such as parties, decorating, baking, visiting Santa, visiting relatives.  It is important to remember to have downtime at home.  This time should be used for reading, watching TV/movies, playing with toys.  Think about the “planned activities” is there time to rest or is it go go go?

Create a safe space

When visiting relatives the environment can be unfamiliar and can be loud and crowded. Help your child find a spot in the house that they find comfortable such as an unused bedroom.  Plan ahead and talk to your child about the space that is available whenever they need it.  Bring books, quiet activities, or a favorite video game to help the child calm down and take a break to help prevent anxiety or sensory overload.

Role-play opening presents

Practice having your child open a wrapped gift and discuss how to say thank-you for the gift and what to do if the gift is less than desired. Rehearse the following situations that might occur with gift opening: they already have the gift, they don’t like the gift, or they love the gift.  Have your child practice acting grateful for a gift regardless of the above scenario.

Practice saying hello and good-bye

If your child hasn’t seen a family member for a while, they may be a little scared or shy.  That is okay.  The more you practice greetings the easier it will be for them to recall the words when needed.  Keep in mind your child doesn’t have to say a lot in the greeting.  Here are some examples: “Hello.” “Hi, thank you for inviting me.” “Hello, it’s nice to see you again.” “Hello, how are you?”  “Hello, Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas,etc….”

Do not force hugs or kisses. Encourage your child to use a method they are comfortable with such as a high five, wave, or fist bump. Have your child practice these ahead of time.  

Who are my relatives?

Has your child not seen a relative for a while?  Although your child may have heard you speak about relatives or may have talked to them on the phone they may not remember individuals they don’t see on a regular basis.  One way to help your child remember family members is by creating a picture book.  You can place a photo of each family member and their name on each page.  You can add additional details such as their profession, where they live, who they are related to, or special stories as well.

Use Schedules

Having a visual or written schedule can help your child understand and predict the plan for the day.  This can help reduce anxiety and stress your child may have about gatherings and activities.

Help your child have conversations with adults

Often family members ask the child a lot of questions around the holiday season as they may not see them a lot over the year.  These questions include the dreaded question of “how is school?”  Most children respond with fine or good.  Practice asking your child questions such as “How is school?” “What is your favorite subject?” “How do you like your new puppy?”  Encourage your child to give a longer response than good or fine.  

Compliment your child

It is important to point out what your child is doing well during the holiday season and family gatherings.  I liked how you answered all of Aunt Betty’s questions, or I liked how you shared your toys with your cousins.  This will give your child confidence going into the next holiday activity.

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