One of my favorite holiday traditions is hosting a Friendsgiving dinner. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, we invite over our friends, put on a football game, roast a turkey, and enjoy good company.
My wife Natalia and I are happily reviving this tradition for the first time since we moved to the Delaware Valley in July 2015, a few weeks before I began my headship here at The Quaker School at Horsham.
We are looking forward to a dinner table crowded with new friends and their families. Yet with any holiday event comes challenges, especially when families and children have different needs in order to be comfortable and content.
In preparation of all of the social events approaching this season, here are our favorite ways to host holiday mealtimes with your loved ones with complex challenges:
Present your loved one with a Social StoryTM.
Developed by Carol Gray (consultant to children, adolescents and adults with autism), Social Stories are tools to help parents, professionals and people with autism share information in a safe way.
You can use Social Stories to preview situations and relieve anxiety — which is really important around the holidays. Once you create your Social Story, read it to your child once or twice daily before the holiday meal. Then when the time comes, your child will feel confident and prepared because they are already aware of any potential surprises. Remember, nothing ruins fun like the unexpected.
Want to learn to write one yourself? I highly recommend Ms. Gray’s book, “The New Social Story Book”.
Make mealtime casual.
As the host, demonstrate that you are open to a flexible and casual mealtime.
This can be as simple as allowing individuals with complex challenges to enjoy meals in their own way. If they need to slip away from the table and use an iPad, or stack Legos, or watch the football game, let them.
It can also mean hosting a less formal affair overall, so that guests can dress comfortably and aren’t annoyed or restricted by their outfits.
During mealtime, deck your table with a “coloring tablecloth”. Gather up the crayons and allow your guests to doodle as they eat. Your guests will be occupied, and you will be left with a nice memento of your time together.
And if dinner or playtime becomes overwhelming, let parents know that it’s ok to bring out a bag of favorite toys and activities for their children to enjoy.
Relax and have fun.
Be open-minded about your event. If families need to leave early because their children have had enough, help them do so with grace. Regardless of the amount of time you spend together, the act of gathering and enjoying a meal in a group is what it’s all about during the holiday season.
How do you host successful holiday events with children with complex challenges? Share your best tips in the comments below.