5 tips to help kids with self-control struggles “behave” (and have fun) at family gatherings

Family gatherings can be challenging for kids who have trouble with self-control. Try these tips the next time you host one.

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

These tips can help make family gatherings at your home go more smoothly for everyone.

1. Plan activities your child can jump in and out of.

Sitting still and staying put can be hard for kids who have trouble with self-control. Try activities that allow your child to come and go.

Craft projects are a great option. If the gathering is for a certain holiday, event, or time of year, you can use that to create a theme. A family reunion in the fall can be a perfect time to decorate or draw pumpkins. And there’s nothing more unique than handmade birthday cards, no matter the season.

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.

2. Have your child lead the younger kids.

Encourage your child to plan some activities for the younger children at the gathering. For example, have them 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.

3. Make your child the event historian.

This is a fun role that will keep older kids busy. Give your child a notepad, camera, or 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. Or, either they or someone else can share the answers to the question they asked.

4. Set out cooperative games.

With competitive games, each player is out for themself. And that might overexcite kids with self-control challenges. 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.

5. 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 help you create a playlist for the event. You can even make your child the judge of a family karaoke competition.

Get more ideas for helping your child with self-control.

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