5 Tips to Help Kids With Self-Control Issues Have Fun at Family Gatherings

By Lexi Walters Wright
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Family gatherings can be tricky for kids who struggle with self-control and impulsivity. They may have a harder time keeping their emotions and behaviors in check in a big social setting. These tips can help make gatherings 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 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, provide supplies for building snowmen. For a summer party, create a tie-dyeing station.

Your child can choose to do one craft, many or none at all. He can also pop in or out of the activity at any time.

2. Have your child lead the littler kids.

Encourage him to plan some activities for his younger cousins. Have him arrange a scavenger hunt or lead hourly rounds of Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light. Or let him oversee cookie decorating.

The responsibility may help him keep his emotions and impulses in check. Just make sure he buys into the idea and has a say in the activity.

3. Make your child the event historian.

This is a fun role that can keep older kids busy. Give your child a camera or have him use his phone to document the event. Ask him to capture as many guests as possible. Consider brainstorming a question your child might ask each person, such as “If you had to describe our family in one word, what would it be?” During or after the event, he can even create a quick slideshow or video to share with everyone who was invited.

4. Set out cooperative games.

With competitive games, each player is out for himself. And that might overexcite kids with self-control issues. But cooperative games can encourage your child to work with his aunts and uncles 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? Have him pick out a jigsaw puzzle to work on with whoever wants to help put it together.

5. Let your child choose.

Offering your child choices gives him a say about family activities. And that can help him maintain emotional self-control. Maybe your family likes activities that involve music and singing. Let him choose the songs for a family caroling outing. See if he wants to play his guitar for a summer campfire sing-along. Or make him the judge of a family karaoke competition.

About the Author

About the Author

Lexi Walters Wright 

is the former Community Manager at Understood (u.org/community). As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Amanda Morin 

worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

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