Nili Geldwert, M.A. CCC-SLP and Julie Pike, M.A., CCC-SLP
Thanksgiving can be a fun and festive time but it can also be stressful and anxiety producing. We hope you find the tips below useful in creating more joy and less stress around the holiday.
1. Prepare your child for what to expect in advance of the day. You can make a visual schedule answering important information such as the time of the event, the place, who will be there (family/friends), and the reason for the gathering.
2. As you know children can be picky eaters and this could be even more challenging during this holiday. You could set up a mock Thanksgiving meal and try out some of the new foods. You could also have some of their favorite food items with you just in case they don’t like anything. Practice with your child how to politely decline unpreferred food.
3. Children with sensory sensitivities to noise and crowds may benefit from arriving a little earlier than the start time to acclimate to the noise and people.
4. Locate the bathroom, playroom, and a quiet area when you arrive.
5. If you are at someone else’s home, this new environment can be overwhelming. Finding a quiet place for your child to go to for a break can help to calm them if it becomes over stimulating. You can discuss this with the host in advance if you do not feel comfortable walking through their home! Also, having preferred toys and/or calming items can be helpful to soothe and comfort your child.
6. Interacting with your relatives can sometimes require some social savviness. Some children don’t like engaging with unfamiliar relatives. If your child is young, you can advocate for them and guide the conversation. If your child is ready for role playing, you can role play these interactions and review with them the most common questions such as “what school do you go to?” or “how old are you?”, as well as including how to greet and gracefully end the conversation. If your child is on the older side or is interested in politics, try to remind them about the expectation of talking to others about taboo topics such as politics, race, religion, etc.
7. Remember to check in with your child throughout the event, as many children might not initially appear overwhelmed or communicate their feelings, but then behaviors change in an instant. Depending on your child, using check-ins could be helpful to gauge how they are coping. For example, you can establish a gesture (e.g., thumbs up/down) or a code word to use as a gauge. Check-ins should be approximately every 15 minutes.
Using the above strategies can help to maximize your child’s chance for a pleasant and comfortable holiday celebration. Remember to acknowledge your child’s efforts by telling them what went well and how proud you are! Have a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!
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