The winter holidays are just around the corner, which can lead to an influx in visitors in your home. Some children welcome grandma and grandpa into their home with open arms, others are slower to warm up.
It’s completely normal for some children to be leery of having visitors in their home. But if it’s beginning to add stress to your social life, your child’s social life, as well as family relationships, it might be time to help your child build strategies to welcome visitors into their world.
Comforts of Home
There is no safer place in the entire world to children than their home. Home is their world. Letting someone in, regardless of how well they know them, can sometimes set off alarm bells to a child. In a child’s mind, they’re thinking: Who is this person? What are they doing here? Am I going to be left here with them? Why are they trying to talk to me? What if they take my toys? Is this person going to be nice or mean?
There are other reasons a child might be anxious about having visitors:
- 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.
- They felt ignored when Mom and Dad had friends over.
- A recent bout of illness can lead to anxious behavior in other areas of a child’s life.
- Having visitors throws off a child’s routine.
While some children may cry or demand extra attention before a visitor comes over, other children’s anxiety toward visitors manifests itself in challenging behavior during the visit. Support your child to turn anxiousness into excitement by focusing on the fun they can create with their guest.
As parents, some of us dream of the day when our older children can play independently while we enjoy a cup of tea and catch up our friends. But even elementary-aged children still need and want the attention and love of their parents. Part of your child’s secure attachment is to occasionally touch base with you to make sure you are still there for them. So when a visit goes on for a long time and a child needs to touch base and you don’t respond, you may see behavior that is out-of-the ordinary for them, such as:
- 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.
Have a Plan in Place
Learning complex social skills—such as greeting visitors, talking politely, getting your attention politely, entertaining friends—is something that takes time, patience, and practice. If it’s something you’d like to work on with your child, plan several visits with understanding friends or family members who your child knows reasonably well.
- Timing is everything: Plan the visit during a time of day that doesn’t throw off your child’s routine too much.
- Talk about the visit ahead of time: Tell your child who’s coming over and why and what your child can do during the visit. If a playmate is coming over, talk about some games they can play together. If one of your friends is coming over, suggest ideas for your child to do while you are busy, such was watching a movie, working on a puzzle, or playing in the yard.
If your child has a special toy they don’t want to share, put the toy away so it is not a choice during the visit. This shows respect for your child’s feelings and helps them be more willing to share their other toys.
- Set some ground rules: Choose two or three simple rules to stick to:
- Take turns with your toys.
- Let your guest choose an activity they want to play.
- When you need mom or dad’s attention, wait until the adults are finished speaking before saying “Excuse me, I have something to ask you.”
- Plan some activities: 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. Find out ahead of time, what the new playmate’s interests are and tailor your activities around games that both children can enjoy.
- Have snacks at ready: Why does it seem that kids always get extra hungry when guests are over? In addition to making sure your child is fed before guests arrive, it can be helpful to have some snacks at the ready for the kids to graze on during the visit. Have the snacks in an easy-to-access spot and be firm about those being the only snack choices available during the visit. It’s no fun to be a short-order cook while trying to catch up with your friend you haven’t seen in 3 years!
As the visit goes on, take a moment to check in with your child and praise them for playing well independently or with their guest. Even a quick hug and “I love you” can send the message that you are thinking of your child even while engaged with your guests.
Looking for some fun, fall craft activities for your child? There are loads of activities you can do with leaves! While guests are over, have your child collect leaves from your front or back yard and use them to make leaf wreaths, leaf banners, sun catchers, and more. There are great ideas at happinessishomemade.net.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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