8 Tips for Helping Kids With Social Skills Issues Cope With the Holiday Season

By Kate Kelly

Holiday events are supposed to be fun. But for kids with social skills issues, these events can pose challenges and create stress. Use these eight simple tips to help your child successfully navigate this very social season.

1. Practice hellos and goodbyes.

The more you practice with your child, the easier it will be for him to call up the right words when he needs them. He doesn’t have to say much: “Hi, it’s nice to see you!” and “Thanks for having me—I had a good time” will usually do it. Remind him to look people in the eye, and that when people extend their arm it means they want to shake hands.

2. Tell your child what to expect.

Let your child know how the day will unfold. (If you’re not sure, ask your hosts in advance.) You might say something like, “When we get there, the kids will be watching football or playing downstairs. After an hour, we’ll have dinner. The kids will sit at their own table. Then it’s dessert, and then we’ll go home.” Your child may feel more relaxed if he knows what’s going to happen next. You can also brainstorm ways he can handle certain situations.

3. Script some conversation starters.

Help your child develop some general questions to break the ice with other kids. He might ask, “Do you play any sports?” or “What shows do you like to watch?” With older kids, come up with a few news items about sports or celebrities he can talk about.

4. Help your child join a group.

Before you head off to mingle with the adults, help your child get settled. If the kids are playing football—and your child doesn’t enjoy that game—ask if they need a scorekeeper. Or if it’s a game he does like, help him to break in by saying something like, “John would love to play too. Do you have room for another player?”

5. Role-play opening presents.

If there’s going to be a gift exchange, have your child practice opening presents and saying thank you. Rehearse the possible scenarios: He doesn’t like the gift, he already has one, or he loves it. You can take turns acting out how to sound grateful no matter what he gets.

6. Help your child make conversation with adults.

It’s natural for adults at holiday gatherings to ask your child what he’s been up to. Kids with social issues may not like talking about school or find it easy to talk about their achievements. Set your child up to have something positive to say in response to these questions. For example, “Why don’t you tell Aunt Emma about how you trained our new puppy?”

7. Go over hosting duties.

Having the get-together at your house can be a plus. Your child may feel more comfortable on his own turf. You may want to give him a job, like answering the door and showing people where to put their coats. Remind him to let the guests pick the movie or the game to play. And if it’s an adult-oriented event, you may want to let your child head to his room after he’s said hello. If he’s already attended several holiday events, it’s OK to let him sit one out.

8. Point out what your child did well.

If he did a nice job saying thank you, or held his own during a conversation with his cousins, let him know you noticed. Recognition can mean a lot—and give your child more confidence going into the next holiday event.