With Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa just around the corner, it is important to discuss the topic of self-advocacy with your children. Family gatherings can be both exciting and overwhelming. Sometimes the smallest of things can just be too much, especially for kids with sensory needs. You may be wondering- how can I teach my child to advocate for themselves, and how can I advocate for my child? Here you will find a few tips to help create a comfortable, enjoyable holiday season for all.
Setting Boundaries for Touch
When greeting family members during the holiday season, you may notice an exchange of hugs and kisses. It can be helpful to request that family members ask before initiating a greeting in the form of physical touch. It is even more important to teach your child that it is okay to engage in self-advocacy to politely decline. From a sensory standpoint, sometimes unexpected touch can be dysregulating. From a social-emotional standpoint, a hug may make a child feel uncomfortable or nervous. Here are some phrases you can teach your child to advocate for their comfort when it comes to physical touch:
- “How about a high-five?”
- “No thank you”
- “I don’t want a hug, but it’s nice to see you!”
- “I need some space please”
- “I’m going to wave goodbye”
These phrases do not need to be used just for greetings; your child should feel empowered to use these self-advocacy statements throughout social gatherings. While these interactions may come with good intentions, the feelings of everyone involved should be considered.
Self-Advocacy for Feeding and Communication
Encouraging children to self-advocate for their strengths and levels of comfort can be challenging during the holiday season, especially in the presence of a large group. Here are a few examples of how you and your child can advocate for feeding needs and forms of communication during the holiday season:
When your child is offered a food item they do not enjoy, teach them to utilize an “I do,” or “I can” statement to share something that they do like. For example, when offered turkey at the Thanksgiving table, your child can politely decline by saying “no thank you, I don’t like turkey, but I do love my sandwich!”
Did your child try a new food at the holiday dinner table? Share with those around you that this is something your child has been working on. This way everyone can take part in the celebration of even the smallest achievements.
Eye Contact and Conversation
Is someone asking your child to look at them while they speak? Individuals of all ages have varying levels of comfort when making eye contact. Rather than expecting your child to adhere to social norms of sustained eye contact, encourage them to advocate that looking elsewhere allows them to be a better conversation partner!
Does your child use AAC, visual supports, sign language, or gestures to communicate? Advocate that there are many ways to communicate, and that all forms of communication should be honored.
Is someone finishing the sentences of your child who stutters? Advocate that they may need extra time to share what they have to say. While their intention may be to help, this may result in feelings of shame and embarrassment.
In conclusion, self-advocacy is essential. While advocacy is not just limited to the topics discussed above, we hope these tips can empower you and your child when engaging with others this holiday season.
Check back in soon for tips on how to discuss the topic of advocacy with family members who may not understand your child’s sensory needs.