How to encourage children to be social at parties
Children’s parties are a traditional part of childhood for many. There is nothing more exciting and amazing than having a whole heap of your friends over for tea and games but, for some children, this is their idea of their worst nightmare.
It is for some adults too. Not everyone seeks the ‘en-masse’ company of hordes of other people and making small talk or interacting with people they don’t know is not something that many people – or children – are able to do with ease nor comfort.
Many children are shy; it is almost an emotion as strong as excitement, fear and happiness and is one way of protecting themselves emotionally, and physically, too in an unfamiliar situation. For many, thus shyness will pass as they grow older but for many people, this crippling shyness remains.
However, for some children shyness is only one of the strong emotions that they feel in a difficult situation; anxiety, nervousness and excitement are some of the emotions that can be overwhelming. When these emotions collide, the child can become fretful, tearful and, in some cases, angry.
Recognising and dealing with emotions
Children need to guidance of trusted adults when it comes to recognising these emotions, why they get them and how to start dealing with them. This is all part of the growing up process but, for some children diagnosed with conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or Asperger’s amongst others, find being able to control or relate to social situations such as parties is a nightmare strewn scenario.
Such children can find it difficult to ‘read’ a social situation, therefore they may behave or say things with the gathered company may find inappropriate or unacceptable.
Therefore, before party seasons and summer get-togethers gather pace, these children need to practice social skills in non-threatening environments. In other words, spending time at home running through what can be expected and some strategies for dealing with situations is one way of equipping a child with some essential social skills.
Helping your child with…
- Controlling their emotions – all children struggle to cope with emotions of one kind or another. Some children become so excited for example, that they can lash out. Helping your child to understand that all these emotions have ‘names’ is one aspect; identifying them another. No emotion is bad – anger, excitement, happiness, or fear and o on – but the actions that was take when we allow an emotion to overtake us, can be.
- Reading the facial expressions of others – some conditions and syndromes prevent children being able to read both body language and facial expressions of other children and adults. For example, when we show distaste, it is clearly marked on our face but, children do not always see and read these signs. Running through some of the most common expressions people display is one aspect, understanding why they may be feeling this way and how it could be linked to what the child is or is not doing, quite another.
- Negotiating and compromising – in some aspects, all children struggle with being able to accept that they are not always right or wrong. Diplomacy is a skill and a gift that varies from person to person, child to child. Party games can be a nightmare situation for many children, especially when they feel their heightened sense of fair play has been thwarted or trampled on. This results in many a tantrum or tears, although some children also struggle with ‘allowing’ others to win. Teaching children to take part in games starts at home; make it regular family time to play games and so on.
Breaking away – and it is OK to do so!
Children are often taught to deal with their emotions in quite a tough way. But, with children who are overwhelmed it is perfectly acceptable for them to leave the task or activity for a while, to sit or do something on their own and get their balance back again.
However, taking a break is a mature decision and one that some younger children struggle with. Thus, as a supervising adult, it makes sense for you to take this decision for them BUT, you must make it clear this is not a punishment. Taking a few moments outside, to deeply breath in some fresh air is one way of doing it. When they feel ready, they are more than welcome to return to the party.