With many adults vaccinated and children ages 5 and up now eligible for their COVID-19 vaccination, families are looking forward to reuniting with family and friends this holiday season after a long stretch of social distancing. But while you may be excited to have Grandma over for a New Year’s fest, your child may have some concerns about it.
It’s completely normal for some children to be worried about having visitors over. To children, there is no safer place in the entire world than their home. Letting someone in, regardless of how well they know them, can sometimes set off alarm bells to a child. The social distancing that began in March 2020 was a first for many where we did not gather with friends or family in groups, or if we did, it was rarely and with precautions. Think about what percentage of your child’s life has happened since then – for a three year old, this is how it has been for half their life. No wonder this change can cause some discomfort!
If this is happening in your home, first, pay attention to your own concerns or worries and manage those. Your child will pick up on your calmness, and will help them manage his own stress and worry.
Knowing the signs to look for, as well as ways to help your child work through their feelings, can go a long way in building up your child’s social emotional skills when it comes to having visitors over.
What’s so scary about having visitors over?
There are a number of reasons your child might act nervous before guests arrive or behave differently when guests are over, especially if it has not been a regular occurrence:
- Lack of practice about how to behave with friends in their own space
- They don’t know or remember how to ask for what they need/want with peers
- They don’t know or remember how to join in play
- They don’t know how to respond to peers when there is conflict
- They want all their parent’s attention
- They get bored or restless when they don’t have their parent’s attention
- They have an unmet physical need like hunger or rest
- They had a negative experience the last time visitors came over, such as a playmate who took their favorite toys and refused to take turns.
- A recent bout of illness can also lead to anxious behavior in other areas of a child’s life, such as having visitors over.
The tell-tale signs
Have you noticed that your child acts differently when visitors come to your home? You may notice your child:
- Being overly loud or silly
- Showing off/demanding your attention
- Refusing to play or share toys with a playmate
- Excessive teasing of a sibling or playmate
Learning complex social skills—such as greeting visitors, talking politely, getting your attention politely, entertaining friends—is something that takes time, patience, and practice. When you know visitors will be coming over, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Try to plan visits around your child’s usual sleep and meal times so they are not tired or hungry when visitors arrive.
- Practice or role play manners you would like to see with guests, i.e. saying please and thank you or asking their friend to decide what to play. Start with a shorter amount of time for guests, then build up as they get reacquainted with expectations
- Tell your child who is coming over and the reason for the visit — “Your Great Grandma is coming over tonight to celebrate New Year’s Eve with us.”
- Let your child know what to expect; what will happen when guests are there.
- Plan some activities for your child to do while guests are visiting, ideally something your child can manage on their own, such as soft dough, coloring books, or building blocks. Some children need more guidance when it comes to play, especially when playing with a new friend or in a new situation. Save yourself a lot of interruptions by planning some activities and setting them up before your guests arrive. You can also think of things your child might like to show their visitor.
- Check in on your child from time to time. Notice when your child is playing well with another child or on their own and show your approval to your child. A quick hug can send the message that you are still thinking about your child even while in the other room visiting with Great Grandma.
Having visitors over can be a fun time for your child to mix with others–both adults and other children. With a little practice and guidance, your child will look forward to having friends and family over for visits. We will all build up those social emotional muscles and connect with others comfortably again.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis, and Lynne Grilley.
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