Ok, so Christmas is a busy time… extra services, extra fancy food, extra special activities and for us extra people coming to stay over the holidays.
There are a few things I have learnt the hard way over the years about helping my children through all the change that having visitors brings so as I’m thinking through all the behind the scenes tasks I have yet to do I thought I’d share them in case they’ll be useful to any of you…
With a houseful one of the hard things is children losing that sense that they have a space that’s theirs, to escape to, to be calm in. So we work hard at creating and articulating for them some space they can call their own. It’s usually bed space, but it is more than that physical space that’s needed. Visitors sleep in A & T’s room, and they come into ours on camp beds, so we work together to make sure that all the books/soft toys/lights/clocks that are essential to that feeling of safety and ‘my space’ get moved too and each of them gets somewhere to put them, and lay them out how they are comfortable. For B, who has cousins sleeping in her room with her, we encourage her to do the same, taking all the essential things up into her high bed (which does make it a bit crowded – or should I say more crowded than usual, she is a nester!) and keep that space just for her.
Having a designated, easily visible space they can go to is so important to enable them to regulate their emotions during the time visitors are with us, and to give them a place to go to when they are reaching their limits of sensory input. If they don’t think to take fiddle/sensory toys to that space then we take them there anyway, they are usually needed.
But that’s mine!
The other half of the story about space of course is that each of my children has to loan their bedroom to visitors for the time they are here. Right from the start we have strongly encouraged sharing, but it soon became clear that the concept needed to be broken down into clear, manageable steps… so from the time B started school we had developed a ritual of sitting her down and discussing which things were too special to share – we put limits on just how many of these there could be! – and these were then put carefully in a box or bag and put right away while the guest was with us. We did the same before friends came for tea even… just knowing that those special things didn’t need to be shared took some anxiety away about how they might be touched, played with differently, broken etc.
The discussion also involved the negotiating of an agreement that the things left were ok to share, we were expecting the children visiting to be able to touch them, play with them, look in the books and so on, and that we expected B not to be cross when they did. We spelled out that we would be supervising too, to make sure things didn’t get broken, and if they did we would try to mend them, but that it was ok to let visitors play with our toys.
We try to have fun thinking together about what each visitor might enjoy while they are with us… which books could we choose & put next to their bed for them to read at bedtime? Do they usually bring a cuddly toy for bed? If not, is there one maybe that we could tuck into their bed for them to find when they arrive and cuddle each bedtime they stay for? When they wake up in the morning what do we think they would enjoy playing with before breakfast? could we make sure those kinds of toys/activities are easy to find on the shelf? And what about creating some lovely play spaces downstairs together to use during the day? And to think together about a box of crafts or activities that could be dipped into for ideas during the visit. Yes, doing it together does make everything take longer! But I’ve found the detailed, methodical collaboration pays off in the way it reduces anxieties and helps to visualize the activities of the days ahead.
that’s theirs this week
I find it helpful to say out loud that the room we let guests sleep in is their space while they are with us. We need to ask before going in, and we need to not go into their cases or bags looking for things.
We had a ‘funny with hindsight’ moment when B was only a toddler. We were hosting as part of a pastor’s exchange, and our guests had just arrived, and were having lunch. B never stayed at a meal table back then, and so she was toddling and playing. About half way through lunch we noticed how quiet it was… oh yes B had taught herself a new skill and had discovered zips on a rucksack! All our guests camera film was on the floor, and B was happily focused on the lovely film that could be pulled slowly or fast out of the containers!!!
when and what next?
Yes my children need to know when visitors are arriving and when they are leaving, and they really do feel far less anxious when there is a plan for what we will do each day when visitors are with us.
Sometimes we can get away with working out a list of possible activities and explaining that we will do those things over a number of days but we will work out the order with our guests, or perhaps depending what the weather is like each day. There are usually many fixed points during a visit though too, that we write in the plan and then stick to. Over the years we have learnt together that time between definite activities (or even whole mornings without ‘a plan’) is manageable when we have carefully gone through the processes of preparing play spaces, craft box etc in advance. Somehow it gives boundaries and confidence to a ‘gap’ on the timetable.
We also find it makes things easier when we plan the meals and go through it with the children in advance too. And extra special foods for Christmas always have an alternative that is familiar. We have also found that it helps to say in advance where my children can sit for the meals – especially if there will be a kids table and an adult’s table.
I have prepared a social story about our Christmas dinner – because its a flash point! (see here – I have left as a word document so it can be easily adapted)
Well, I’m still expecting there to be ‘moments’ while visitors are with us… but at least when I try to do these things I feel more prepared, and feel I have prepared them as best I can!