“Meredith, what might be some gentle ways to ask for a host/hostess’ help in making a holiday gathering more comfortable for children with special needs? What are the areas where a parent could take initiative to take care of their own child’s needs (such as excusing their child from participating in a chaotic, but long-standing family ritual everyone else loves) and where are areas where it is reasonable to ask for some modifications (such as a request to play soft and soothing Christmas music vs. Alvin and the Chipmunks).”
This is such an important question that honors both the child and the host. My goal is always to advocate for Henry (and teach him to advocate for himself) while maintaining respect and kindness toward others. That desire is what I hear in this inquiry.
Let me preface my suggestions with the disclaimer that I realize only you can know the best approach to take with your family. Family dynamics are unique, and what works for us may not work for you. Please know my intent is to help you provide peace for all involved, never discord.
Additionally, the right tone and word choice can go a long way with fostering mutual respect and demonstrating your intent. You are not responsible for another person’s interpretation, but you are responsible to speak with love and clarity. Convey that your child’s needs are real and that the right accommodations will benefit everyone – not just your child. With that said, I would consider these reasonable requests:
- Ask for an idea of when food will be served so that you can prepare your child. Example: “Hi, Cindy! I’m preparing a schedule for Johnny. Any chance you can tell me the approximate time we’ll have dinner? Will we have a special blessing or toast beforehand I should tell him about? Thanks so much; this really helps him feel excited instead of anxious about the holiday!”
- If you need to prepare special food for your child, make sure to let the host know you will take care of it so as not to burden them.
- Ask if there will be guests who are unfamiliar to your child.
“Hey, Dad. I’m showing Sally pictures of all her extended family and reminding her who will be at Christmas dinner. Do we have any special guests or friends coming? I’d love to tell her their names beforehand.”
- Let the host and other family members know the specific situations in which your child may experience discomfort, pain, or emotional fatigue.
For example, if your child has sensitivity to touch, he may not appreciate hugging.
- If longstanding traditions have been uncomfortable for your child in the past – or if you suspect they will be – let your family know that your child may need to separate herself from the crowd for brief periods of quiet and decompression.
- If the host or other family members offer to change a tradition for your child’s benefit, gratefully and graciously accept. This is not the time to be a martyr or to be prideful.
- Finally, it is always appropriate to ask how you can help the host/hostess. At the least, you have shown kindness and courtesy. At best, this request can open the lines of communication and may give you an opportunity to share what will help your child. For example, the host may enlist your assistance in preparing a calm environment. (Create a quiet zone, tone down the table decorations, avoid smelly candles, etc.) She may even offer to prepare your child’s favorite food or change the music. (No more Alvin!)
I hope these suggestions are helpful for you and create more peace and joy this season! Do you have great tips too? Please share them in the comments or on Facebook.