One of the many challenges our brightest kids find is that they don’t have the social skills to “have fun” and “fit in” at social gatherings. This can cause a number of problems especially at a time like Christmas when families find themselves invited to more social events than they normally would be throughout the year.
Problems that can arise include
- Not knowing what to say, especially how to accept a gift or how to give a gift
- Saying inappropriate (but true) things, including receiving an unwanted gift or one they already own
- Dealing with disappointment when they don’t get a gift or get something they don’t want.
- Finding the food difficult – this can vary from taste, texture, colour, small or just analysing the health benefits of said food (including drinks) as well as food allergies and intolerances
- Difficulty with noise levels
- Fairness of games (often everyone wins which is not always “fair”)
- Games in general
- Length of time
- Needing adult support but not wanting to look babyish
- Appropriate clothing
Below are some suggestions to assist you in helping them enjoy the events over this upcoming Christmas
Setting the scene
It may be helpful to try to discover what your child expects to occur at the party before they attend and communicate with them about what some of the realities maybe. Whist describing to your child what they will most likely see, do and eat at the party. This will help them to prepare their expectations. Be careful not to over sell as they may be let down if the activity etc. does not meet their expectations. It may seem like this will spoil the surprise, but many children prefer the safeness of foreknowledge rather than the surprise. I suggest talking to the family member hosting the event beforehand to find out if you and your child could offer to help, as this may put the child at ease. Another idea could be to visit prior to the event so that the space is familiar.
It is best to also talk about the sorts of things that may be challenging for them (you know your child so this can vary from too much noise, to your child dominating the conversation). Role play or discuss with detail how the group will interact and the best way they can contribute to that. You may even decide on a strategy for what they can do if it gets too much.
Christmas is a time when everyone tries to do a little more than normal. However, this excess can be overstimulating, and you may need to be aware that this will trigger behaviours that would not occur on a typical day. Many children get up early as well, so as the day proceeds they are likely to get overtired from the lack of sleep as well as the stimulation of gifts, food and people.
During the party
As Christmas events are more likely to be attended by your family members who know your child, you could work out with the family member hosting the Christmas party ways to involve your child on the day. Even if it is organising seating arrangements or warming food. This can be something they can do if they need to move away from the “crowd” for a while, Also try to ensure you keep an eye on how they are coping and the little “jobs” may serve as a backup for your child as needed.
Arrange a time out, recharge space or option, for your child. So children may need to have a time where they sit down and recharge before opening presents with the family, as this can be an overwhelming exercise. Maybe you could take them aside after opening their presents to go over with them what they received and maybe sure that they are relaxed and not overwhelmed. Some families just open one present and enjoy that for a while before opening another. That way your child will not be over stimulated and will be able to appreciate the gifts they have been given.
After the party
After any party they will probably need some time to detox, debrief etc. They may need alone time, an early night, a long shower. Something to regenerate after their time of holding it together in an uncomfortable or overstimuating situation.
If there are things that need discussing, wait a while instead of immediately going through it blow by blow to find out what they have learned from the encounter. Let it sit with them and come out organically, as they are ready to discuss. Or choose a time when they are refreshed to remember the day together and discover the good as well as the challenging parts as a memory and something to grow from.
Be prepared for a meltdown. At home is a safe space and you should welcome the meltdowns as a sign that they feel safe to let it out with you (even though it is often very difficult to live through). Have some quiet activities to help them relax before bedtime. Set the scene for them before you get home, so they have a goal through till bedtime.
Extra tips for social Christmas parties
Ensure that if your child is attending a school or social Christmas party that there are children attending that your child enjoys being with, however, be aware that some of these children may have similar needs and challenging behaviours.
This can be a great time for your child to interact with the parents and families of their friends. Encounters of this kid allows your child to extend their comfort zone. Good friendships and relationships with families of your child’s friends means you have more people to call on for support where your child will be with familiar faces in a safe environment.
If you are the host of the party or if you can offer to help out with some activities, try to incorporate some structured play. One idea that works well is a role play where the children work together to solve a mystery or discover a treasure. These activities usually involve a series of questions that must be asked and answered that eventually reveal enough clues to logically find the culprit or treasure. This will give the children things to talk about for weeks and months after the party (from my experience).
Avoid too much sugar. I know it is a party but overdoing the sugar makes it hard to the children to regulate their emotions and behaviour. It is ok to bring your own food to parties these days, however most hosts also try to cater for most dietary requirements. If you plan on bringing your own food, have fun food that is healthy. Have Christmas shaped fruit to choose from. Having a fruit punch rather than cans of soft drink is also fun, add cute umbrellas, Santa shaped ice etc makes a simple drink very enticing.
(What program can we recommend based on this ……. Find more information at Australian Gifted Support