By Lexi Walters Wright
Visiting people’s homes is stressful for many kids. But for kids with learning and attention issues, not knowing what to expect or how to behave can be especially difficult. These simple strategies can help.
How many people will be there? Who they are? Just knowing the basic facts can help put young children at ease. The more details you can provide, the better. Does Uncle Al have an especially loud laugh? Is the TV always on at Grandma Betty’s house? Paint a picture of who and what your child might see, hear and experience so she doesn’t feel blindsided walking in the door.
Are your relatives a hugging bunch? Talk to your child about how she might feel when the masses want to squeeze her hello. Would a high-five or fist-bump be OK instead? If not, consider letting your relatives know that your child is more the smile-and-wave type. (For tips, see this checklist for preparing relatives for your child’s issues. Talking to your child about how she can communicate her wishes can also help her develop self-advocacy skills.)
Are the cousins not allowed to bring their handheld video games? Are no shoes allowed past the foyer? Tell your child what might be expected of her so she can anticipate what to do, wear or bring. For example, if there’s a TV in the basement where the kids are expected to play, your child might want to bring some favorite DVDs from home.
Prep your child for small talk by practicing greetings and possible conversations. How might she answer questions like “How’s school?” What topics could she discuss with her grandparents? In the days leading up to the event, brainstorm a new topic each day and write it down. Your child can review the topics the morning of the gathering. For more ideas, explore these role-playing games for building social skills.
What if it’s just too much for your child? Encourage her to take a solo break to recharge. Secure a semiprivate spot ahead of time with the host. You can also create a check-in system. For example, she could whisper a code word—“break,” perhaps—in your ear when she needs to slip away. Be prepared to explain that you’ve given your child the OK to be alone for a while. If for some reason family members tease your child for escaping, here’s what you can do.
Ask your child to bring along quiet activities to do alone. These might include coloring supplies, puzzles, books, non-messy crafts or electronic games. Also include a couple toys she can share with other kids. As a fallback plan, you can stash a couple of small toys or activities in your own bag. If you notice your child is becoming especially bored or antsy, take them out. Sometimes, a new toy can buy you an extra hour of visiting time!
Before the visit, decide what time you’ll be leaving. If your child needs your attention before it’s time to go, she could give you a special wave or say a code phrase. Or you could just her ask a basic question: “Honey, would you like to take a walk?” Do your best to leave when you agreed you would. This shows your child you’re sincere about making her as comfortable as possible during friend and family visits.
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Lexi Walters Wright is veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Jenn Osen-Foss, M.A.T., is an instructional coach, supporting teachers in using differentiated instruction, interventions and co-planning.
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