Often times, holidays and celebrations are a time of the year in which you are more likely to gather with larger groups of extended family and friends. Again, this might be your favorite part of the season. But let’s see it from your child’s perspective:
-new locations with new rules and boundaries to navigate
-strangers or people they don’t know very well
-loud overstimulating environment
-new smells or tastes or insecurities about food
This can be challenging for our children, activating their stress response systems to either fight, flee, or shut down. Helping your child navigate this new experience involves both preparing him and the people he will interact with.
Preparing your people: It’s important for you to talk with your extended family ahead of time letting them know of any boundaries you need them to have with your child. Here are some possible examples:
Physical touch boundaries:
“Our child is navigating some attachment insecurities and will likely be overly physically affectionate with you when she first meets you. She may ask you to hold her or crawl into your lap. We ask that you do not encourage or allow this and simply redirect her to more appropriate options such as sitting in her own seat near you and using safe healthy touch options like handshakes, fist bumps, and high fives.”
“Our child has some sensory aversions to touch so please do not ask that he give you a hug when he arrives.”
“Our new baby has been through a lot in just a few short weeks so we’re going to keep her close to us, we hope you’ll respect why we aren’t passing her around for others to hold.”
“Our child is navigating asking for permission and trusting us as safe parents, so we ask that you please redirect any requests back to us to answer. When he asks if he can have a snack or if he can go outside to play, or if he asks if he can keep something from your home, just simply request that he come ask us.”
“Our child is struggling with some big behaviors due to the challenges he has experienced in his life (name them as needed). While at your home he may display some of these and we ask that you please allow us to handle it in a way that helps him feel safe and learn. It may look different than the way you would handle it.”
“When we come to the party, we may end up needing to leave early due to the environment being too much for our kids. It has nothing to do with you so please don’t take offense. We’re just doing what is best for our family.”
“Our child really struggles with new environments, is there space there where we could get away for a minute if he needs it?”
“I know you are curious about our new teen’s story but it isn’t appropriate for you to ask her about it. Feel free to ask her about her interests and hobbies instead. If she begins to share with you or asks you any questions, please just redirect her to us and let us know what was said.”
Once you prepare your people, you’ll want to prepare the child. This follows the outline we’ve already given you in this module—give the child predictability and practice as needed.
When you are talking to your people, you might ask them to give you some additional information about the gathering that you can share with your child to help them know what to expect.
Here’s an example conversation between a parent and child about an upcoming birthday party:
“Ashley, next weekend we are going to your cousin’s birthday party at the skating rink. There will be some people there that you already know and others that you don’t know (name the people going that she knows). You will be able to skate or to watch people skate from the sides. We will be eating lunch there-they’re going to have pizza and soda for us. We aren’t going to be buying any other food while we are there, but you can pack a snack from home if you’d like. We’ll bring a gift for her, and we’ll probably watch her open some gifts and have birthday cake. The party is two hours and then we’ll go home together after it’s over.”
This kind of conversation prepares the child for what to expect-giving the child the gift of felt-safety which regulates the nervous system-but also sets up good boundaries for the child.
Good areas to cover include: where you are going, who will be there, what you will be doing, how long you’ll be there, what the food situation will be, and where you are doing after it’s done. For some of our kids, this won’t be a one-time conversation-you’ll need to have it several times to prepare them.
This resource and more can be found at our online training module, Navigating the Holidays and Other Celebrations. If you are a Restore Network family, make sure you login to your account and check it out! Contact your County Director if you need help with this!