Seeing babies, toddlers and children at holiday gatherings and family parties can be delightful—until they start crying or acting out, which can deflate holiday cheer quicker than the Grinch.
With a little planning and resourcefulness, National Louis University faculty Jennifer Klapatch Totsch, Ph.D., says you can help the little ones, as well as the grandparents and uncles, enjoy the party and make wonderful memories.
First, consider that if your children are small and the party starts so late in the day that it would throw off their sleep schedules, it may be best to skip it. Totsch suggested being open with hosts, with a remark such as “We’d love to see you, but at this time of day, it would just be miserable for the child.”
If you decide to go, prep your kids on what they can expect at the party, such as other kids, aunts, uncles, people they may not know, food, music, talking and twinkling lights. Some children, including those on the autism spectrum, are more sensitive to noise, lights, touching and new foods or food smells.
If you’re a guest, try to arrive a little early at parties so that you can find your children a quiet place to play in a low-traffic area. Put their toys there and tell them they can go there to color or chill out if the party overwhelms them, Totsch suggested. If you’re the host, children can retreat to their rooms if they want to chill out.
“’It’s okay to say ‘my child needs a nap now,’” Totsch said.
As guests arrive, she offers a non-confrontational way to remind adults to respect children’s boundaries. Tell your children, loudly and within earshot of adults, “Remember, people might ask to hug or kiss you, but you can always say no,” she advised.
Adults have to use a little judgment as to whether to socialize with children who aren’t their own. Don’t force interaction, Totsch advised, but if the child is interacting with others and seems to want to show you their toys, go ahead and socialize. On the other hand, if the child doesn’t seem to be in a mood to socialize, take the hint and back off. They may be tired or just not in the right frame of mind.
Parents may have to take turns, with one minding the children while the other socializes with adults, so that everyone has a chance to enjoy the party.
“Parents have to care for themselves, too,” Totsch advised. “It’s common for stress related to parenting to bleed over to the marriage. So, communication is important, and knowing your limits.”
As with all parenting, parents have to roll with the situation, but a little planning goes a long way in making holiday parties occasions everyone can feel good about.
See holiday party tips on NLU’s website here.