I know that family gatherings are things that we do in the summer. Hmmm, how does your child like family gatherings? Let me picture what a family gathering looks like to we adults. There are people laughing and hugging; there are people being loud; there are older people in chairs that are sitting back and watching the family members interact. There are the generation under that, probably getting drinks and focusing on the food. There are the children of that group, the 20's and teens having fun playing with Frisbees; volleyball; badminton, skiing on the lake; throwing eachother in the water; throwing water balloons and having fun. There are the little children; some are running around interacting with others; some are sitting on the adults lap and some are crying and trying to get out of there.
So, let's look at this from the view of the under 3 child. They are in an environment that is totally unpredictable. Strange people will walk up to them and talk to them and even try to hold them. There are lots of noises that surprise the child. There are so many things to look at and hear. There are so many things that the child might want to explore...the food, the yard, the house, and maybe even some of the people. And the child might have not been sleeping well because they are travelling to get to this gathering or they are sleeping in a hotel or in the house and maybe in a bed that isn't familiar to them.
When your child acts up during a family gathering, think about what they are feeling but may not be able to tell you. (Remember, behavior is a form of communication, so if your child is acting up, they are communicating with you.) Let's problem solve what you can do to make this all easier.
- How to deal with the people that want to hold your child, or ask them "what's your name, how old are you" and then look at you and say "why isn't he talking!" If your child is not feeling comfortable, going to a stranger will probably not help. You can explain to the loving adult that your child needs a little bit more time to warm up and you will let them know when your child might want to be held. Or, you and the loving adult can go to a quiet place, away from the crowd and interact without putting pressure on the child. Slowly the loving adult can interact a little bit at a time, and perhaps win over your child. Please don't force your child to be held by another person if they don't feel secure.
- How to deal with a too tired child. I would try to keep your child's sleep schedule as typical as possible. Maybe have a baby monitor and pack and play in a quiet bedroom and have a fan running for white noise that might help your child have a nap when needed. Fans or other sources of white noise are wonderful for situations where there is unexpected noises. You might need to rock your child or swaddle them a bit in a blanket to help them get organized if they get overtired or upset. Calmly reassure them, sing quietly a favorite song and help them find some time to get organized. There is nothing wrong with lying down with them for a bit to help them fall asleep.
- How to deal with new foods when you have a "picky eater"? I would bring favorite foods with me so that you can help your child feel comfortable. This is not the time to try new foods if it is upsetting to your child. Try to avoid the comments that well meaning adults might say like "you are spoiling your child"; or " just make them eat it". You are the expert on your child and as hard as it is to disagree with YOUR parents or grandparents, you need to stick up for your child if they need that support. It will make for a happier child which will make for a happier you.
- What to do when your child is having a melt down? The first thing I would do is for you and the child to remove yourself from what is happening. Find a quiet spot to calmly reassure your child and help them through their stress. Another idea is to have a stroller ready to take your child for a walk. This will distract them from what has them upset as well as give you both some time to connect. Once your child and you are feeling calm and relaxed, then you can rejoin the group. Often times the thought is to scold a child or punish them for their behavior when they melt down. Once again, I would look at what the trigger was for your child and help them through it. Punishing and scolding will just escalate the meltdown. And you need to stay calm too (if you can) because your child will feed off of your stress.
Now let's think, just for a minute about the wonderful things that may happen at this family gathering. You might be able to get a break from being the primary caregiver for your child because your child loves hanging out with Grandma or Grandpa or auntie and uncle. Your child is engaging with the extended family, giving kisses or high fives and snuggling on the laps of your loved ones. Your child may love trying the new foods, especially if there are other children around their age that are eating new foods too. Children love to imitate other children. Your child might sleep much better on a trip because they are more active and the new things tire them out. Sometimes children with sensory concerns do better when everything is different and they appear more easy going. You might fall in love all over again with these special people in your life because of how they interact so well with your child and praise you for raising such a wonderful little person.
Talk to you soon!!