How to help your child behave better (and have fun) at family gatherings

ByLexi Walters Wright

How to help your child behave better (and have fun) at family gatherings. A child leads their family in a conga line.

At a glance

  • Family gatherings can be harder for kids with self-control issues.

  • Sitting still and being asked to keep emotions in check can be a struggle.

  • With some planning, you can help your child enjoy family gatherings.

Family gatherings are often trickier for kids who struggle with self-control. They may have a harder time sitting still and keeping their emotions and behaviors in check in a big, oftentimes chaotic, social setting.

These tips can help make gatherings go more smoothly for everyone.

Plan activities your child can jump in and out of.

Sitting still and staying put can be hard for kids with self-control issues. Try activities that allow your child to come and go. Craft projects are a great option. If your family reunion is in the fall, set out a pumpkin decorating station. (Opt for stickers and paint markers instead of carving knives, for safety’s sake.) In the winter, dole out supplies for building snowmen. For a spring or summer party, create a tie-dyeing station.

Your child can choose to do one craft, many, or none at all. And it’s OK to pop in or out of the activity at any time.

Have your child lead the younger kids.

Encourage your child to plan some activities for the younger cousins and kids at the gathering. Why not arrange a scavenger hunt or lead hourly rounds of Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light? Or let your child oversee cookie decorating.

Having a specific responsibility during a family gathering may help kids keep emotions and impulses in check. Make sure you discuss all of this beforehand. It’s important your child buys into the idea and has a say in the activity.

Make your child the event historian.

This is a fun role that will keep older kids busy. Give your child a camera or a phone to document the event. Ask your child to capture as many guests and scenes as possible. Consider brainstorming a question your child could ask each person at the gathering, such as “If you had to describe our family in one word, what would it be?”

During or after the event, your child can even create a quick slideshow or video to share with everyone who was invited.

Set out cooperative games.

With competitive games, each player is out for themself. And that might overexcite kids with self-control issues. But cooperative games can encourage your child to work with family members to win.

Find a spot to set out a cooperative board game, such as Max or one by game company Peaceable Kingdom (like Snug as a Bug in a Rug, or Cauldron Quest). Even simpler? Pick out a jigsaw puzzle; your child can work on it with whoever wants to help put it together.

Let your child choose.

Offering kids choices gives them a say about family activities. And that can help them maintain emotional self-control.

Maybe your family likes activities that involve music and singing. Let your child choose the songs for a family caroling outing. Or, see if your child wants to play the guitar for a summer campfire sing-along. You can even make your child the judge of a family karaoke competition.

Key takeaways

  • At the next family gathering, plan to provide a sense of structure for your child with self-control issues.

  • Involve your child in the experience. What game would be fun to play with the cousins?

  • Provide activities like craft projects that your child can jump in and out of throughout the gathering.

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About the author

About the author

Lexi Walters Wright is the former community manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.