A guide to handling unsolicited advice during holiday gatherings

Clearly navigate the challenges of holiday gatherings for neurodivergent families. Learn effective strategies for handling unsolicited advice and supporting your child during moments of despair. Gain valuable tips on diffusing tense situations.

“She’s so spoiled. You let her do whatever she wants.”

“He has to learn what a consequence is or else he’s always going to have these tantrums.” 

“You need to discipline her by taking things away.”

The holiday season usually comes with family gatherings, big and small.

For neurodivergent families, these get-togethers also include an array of side commentary, sprinkles of whispers, and apparent golden nuggets of unsolicited advice.

Parents ask me all the time, “How do I tell my family to just back off?

They are guilted into feeling inadequate when their kids “misbehave” because the expectations of that environment are too much for the nervous system to handle.

What do you do when a grandparent calls your child “spoiled” or you’re openly told to “get him under control”?

You know your child best.

The fact that they need the extra support during moments of despair, that is what you provide.

For a neurodivergent child, changes in the environment, no matter how small, can put the brain on the defense.

When your defenses are on alert, your body will respond accordingly and, for a child, that could look like hitting, yelling, running away, or saying how everything is unfair.

What looks like defiance is a feeling of being at a loss and lacking any sense of control over oneself.

That’s scary to experience! Rather than acknowledging that fright, in come the demands and ridiculous expectations.

The more you push, the more your child pushes back and comes off as being harsh and abrasive.

Now everyone is in a downward spiral!

At this point, there is no “thinking” about consequences because it’s impossible to do.

That thinking part of the brain has been seized.

I’ve had a parent recently say to me, “I had to take an actual step back, collect myself, and go ‘okay, what would Polina do’?” 

It’s important NOT to follow your resonating comments with “but you have to…” because this moment is about attuning to your relationship.

It is NOT about proving that you’re still in charge. You’re the parent, you’re already the authority figure.

Again, choose words that will land in a way your child needs to hear them. 

We can stay here [different room/outside/on the floor] together.

You got it, no more talking.

Let’s just hang back. We can come up with a different idea.

Take these scripts with you to your next family gathering and serve them with a side of confidence in how you’re raising your neurodivergent child.

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