Bringing children along on social occasions can be complicated. Things that entertain adults aren’t always entertaining for kids. Visits can get even more complicated if you have a child with attention, learning or behavior issues.
If your child is expected to do things he generally has trouble with—say, sitting sit still at the table, waiting for his turn, following directions, making transitions without getting upset—it can make everyone pretty uncomfortable. Especially you.
Of course friends don’t need a complete rundown of your child’s strengths and weaknesses before you visit them. But do you anticipate something happening that might need an explanation? Then it’s smart to talk to your friend ahead of time.
The Benefits of Being Open
Being open is a good idea for several reasons. For one, it’s just good manners to warn your host ahead of time if you think there might be a problem.
Plus a warning can actually prevent some undesirable things from happening.
Steve Dickstein, M.D., a pediatrician and child and adolescent psychiatrist, recommends that you warn your hosts “in the same way you’d warn people in advance that your child has a nut allergy.”
Are your friends planning an ambitious dinner party, but your child really only likes eating grilled cheese and plain pasta? You’d want to let them know ahead of time so their feelings don’t get hurt. If your child can only sit at the table for a short period or is easily frustrated, let them know that, too. Explaining these things helps your friends manage their expectations and gives everyone a better chance at getting along.
Setting Some Ground Rules
- If some topics should be off limits, let your friends know. Has your child been seriously struggling in school? He shouldn’t be put on the spot to tell everyone how much he likes the fourth grade.
- Set social expectations. If your child has attention issues, be alert for activities he might not have patience for. Bring other things he might do. If your friends expect kids to disappear and leave lots of time for adults to socialize, let them know that your child might need you to help him stay occupied.
- Think about time limits. It can be hard work for kids with attention issues to be on their best behavior. It’s smart not to push them past their limits. Let your friend know how long you’ll be staying, and tell your child, too. Knowing there’s a fixed end in sight can be reassuring.
Talking to Kids in Advance
Your kids know the rules at your house. But in the excitement of visiting someone else’s home, good behavior can be forgotten. Always have a conversation before leaving your house about how you expect your children to behave. Don’t shy away from specifics.
It’s also a good idea to ask your friend if she has any house rules that you should be aware of. Some people expect kids to be on their best behavior. Others are more casual. “As a parent you never want to put your children in a situation where they’re set up to fail,” explains Dr. Dickstein.
Keeping Kids Occupied
Are you traveling with a child who will need to sit in a car for any length of time? Rachel Busman, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, advises packing a bag with multiple activities, particularly if the child has a lot of energy and a short attention span. “Don’t just think four or five activities will be enough. You could be through those things before you even get on the highway,” she says.
Dr. Busman also recommends planning for breaks, even on short trips. “For kids who get restless or have difficulty managing their impulsive behavior, they might really benefit from getting out of the car and running around for a few minutes.”
Planning Ahead for Some Peace and Quiet
Are you going to a party? If your child is easily overstimulated or sensitive to things like noise and crowds, Dr. Busman recommends arranging for another room he can use when he needs a break. There should be an unused room at any party, so ask your friend ahead of time.
Thinking About the Menu
Gatherings focused on a meal can put a lot of pressure on kids who are picky eaters or who have sensory processing issues that limit their diet. If you’re going to someone else’s house for dinner and you know the menu will be a problem, Dr. Busman suggests packing something your child will eat and bringing it with you.
Reassure your child ahead of time. Explain that there will probably be some different foods there. But you’ll be bringing some things that you know he likes to eat. You can always add, “It would be great if you could try something else, too.” Exploring new foods is good for kids, but it shouldn’t be the most important thing.
Socializing With Other Kids
Just because kids are approximately the same age doesn’t mean they’ll be natural friends. But they should still try to get along—with adult support if needed.
If your child gets easily frustrated when he doesn’t get his way, encourage him to share and be polite. Let him know he can come get you if there’s a conflict the kids can’t settle.
Bringing children along on a visit with friends might present some challenges. But it can come with some rewards, too. Being open with your friend and doing some prep work ahead of time helps ensure success. Have fun!