Get out your calendar, the holiday parties are coming. Office parties, family parties, neighborhood parties, school parties, friends from college parties, Boy Scout parties, Dance Class parties, and the list goes on.
Most people enjoy these gatherings, or even if they dread going they often have fun once they get there. One reason for this (besides the people and food and the adult beverages!) is that they actually know what to do. They understand and can follow through on the basic social experience of a party.
Imagine if you had to go to all these parties and you didn’t know how to behave? Children who have challenges with social skills may not understand what’s expected of them, or may not have the ability to engage in ways most of us take for granted. Something as simple as saying hello to the host or knowing how to answer a question can make parties difficult and create anxiety. Here’s where the 3 P’s can help:
- Preview: Let your child know what to expect. Who will be at the party? What happens first? Will there be a meal? A kid’s table he/she will sit at? Is there a place kids will be able to go to play or a movie they will be watching? Is the party an hour long or 3 hours long? What happens when it’s time to go? The more your child has a sense of what will happen and when the better prepared they will be to manage the situation.
- Practice: Review with your child how to say hello and how to say thank you when leaving. Role play what to say if an adult asks “How’s school?” or “What have you been up to?” Talk about how to join the group of kids and see if your child will need your help. Practice what to say at the dinner table – maybe a few ways to start a conversation or how to say no to the food he/she doesn’t like without offending the host.
- Patience: There are a lot of social rules at parties your child has to negotiate. In addition, parties can be loud and overstimulating. Learning what to do and having the strategies to manage socially will take time. Check-in throughout the party to see if your child needs help and find him/her a quiet place they can use if it gets too overwhelming. Compliment what’s done well to help your child feel good about the experience and to reinforce what to do the next time.
How do you help your child at a holiday party?
Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.