Having Family Gatherings Go Well

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

It was time to load up the car and make the annual pilgrimage to grandma’s house for Christmas. Once a year, all of the relatives and extended family came together to continue family traditions and gather for a large dinner. It also gave the adults some time to catch up with one another. However, this gathering presents a number of challenges for families with children.

The holidays provide a needed vacation from school and work, but it also provides a break from routine. Even though it feels refreshing to break from routines, both adults and children rely on them to keep them stable. Staying up late, traveling, and eating at different times can destabilize children from their routines. When this happens, children will start displaying more challenging behaviors which often occurs at the big holiday family gathering.

Fortunately, parents can take some measures to minimize children’s disruptive behaviors. These measures can start even before leaving for the family gathering. Children can easily get caught up in the excitement and novelty of being in a new home and forget what behaviors are appropriate. Parents should discuss with their children how they are expected to behave at the relative’s home. These expectations should also be specific such as not playing with grandpa’s antique board games.

Another measure parents can take is to talk with the host of the holiday gathering about any issues children may be struggling with. For example, letting grandma know that her grandson has been having difficulty reading will allow her to not ask him to read from the Bible before dinner. This advance notice can prepare relatives and let them know what to expect.

While traveling to the family gathering, parents would be wise to pack a bag with multiple activities to keep their children occupied. Families should also have planned breaks when traveling so everyone can stretch their legs and be able to run around for a little while. This will make the trip to grandma’s house more enjoyable for everyone.

Once the family arrives at the gathering, it can be a chaotic scene as more and more people arrive. Having some child-friendly activities like art projects or cookie making can provide structure for children until they get used to the new setting.

Even though it is exciting to be at a family gathering, sometimes it can be too much and there needs to be a space to get away and take a break. If a child gets easily overstimulated, parents should find an area where he can go to for some peace and quiet. Once the child has settled down, he can get back into the action.

The culmination of a family gathering usually revolves around a big meal. This can be hard for children who are picky eaters as there will be all sorts of dishes that are new and unknown. Odds are that chicken nuggets or hamburgers will not be served. This is where parents can be prepared by bringing some food that the child will eat. While it is ok to encourage the picky-eater to try some of the new foods, the familiar foods will minimize a meltdown at the meal.

As the night winds down and everyone bids their farewells, parents can heave a sigh of relief as their children fall asleep on the way home. By discussing the expectations for their behavior, preparing relatives for any difficulties, having a quiet space, and bringing some familiar food, the parents ensured an enjoyable evening for all.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on December 18, 2015

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *