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Avoiding Meltdowns at Family Gatherings


With the holidays right around the corner your family's social calendar may be filling up. This can be very challenging and stressful for a child who tends to be more introverted. If you are used to meltdowns, mood swings, or outbursts when you and your child are at a social event perhaps they are struggling with what is called their "social battery".


A social battery is a metaphor for the amount of time and energy someone is able to put into socializing until they feel mentally and sometimes physically drained. If you have an introverted child you may have experienced their social battery running out in the form of them getting quiet, having a meltdown, becoming irritable, or getting anxious. After not being very social for two years we are hearing that many introverted children are struggling more than they were before with their social batteries.

That is why we scoured the internet and asked our network of parents, and professionals to give us their best tips for preserving a child's social battery. While this concept may be a new one for you to hear; it could have drastic impacts on your child's or young adult child's mental health.

It is okay to prioritize which events your child attends and which they don’t.  Have a family discussion about your exit strategy. Get on the same page about what time you will be leaving.  Create an emergency exit plan together if it makes your child feel better.  About halfway through the event check-in with your child and ask if they are still okay with the exit plan.  If you all agree to a time STICK TO IT. Don’t get caught up in conversations and miss the time you were supposed to leave.  Consider driving yourself there or taking separate cars so you and your partner can divide and conquer if one child needs to leave but the rest of the family wants to stay.   Schedule events to coincide with your child’s natural rhythms.  Have a frank conversation with your hosts/family about their expectations.  See if there’s a way to adapt social situations to your/or your family’s needs – if your child does better if they can be active see if events can be held in a more adaptable location.

If you have noticed that your child has been struggling with being social do not be hard on them. They are NOT being dramatic and acting out. They are completely drained and the more they socialize on an empty battery the more it could negatively impact their mental health. They may grow more anxious about socializing and not want to leave the house at all. If every social experience that your child encounters ends in them having a meltdown, or feelings of anxiety they may start to think that they hate being around people at all. This could lead to isolation and we know that's the last thing we want for our children.


The good news is - you can help! By being on your child's team when it comes to their social battery you can drastically change their socializing experience. This tip sheet details a number of ways that you can assist them in recharging and keeping an eye on their social battery. The first tip is - BRING IT UP. Your child may feel like they are the only one in the world experiencing this. They may look around at parties and see all of their friends having fun and think that something is wrong with them because they are not. If you personally struggle with your own social battery, talk about it.


Bring it up casually at dinner that sometimes when you are at a social event you can feel when you no longer want to be there. Tell them that you get anxious when you have too many things on your calendar. Tell them that it's totally normal and that chances are a lot of their friends are feeling it too and just not saying anything. This first step could really help to show them that they aren't alone in this struggle.


One tip in particular that we loved was to help your younger children visualize a social battery to help them understand the concept. Tell them just like a tablet, or some of their toys with batteries - they need to be charged to work properly. Explain that when their social battery is full they will feel excited about having fun with their friends and family. But as they hang out the battery starts to drain and eventually empty.


Child at christmas tree

Once you get the conversation started - create a game plan. Ask your child if they would be comfortable with you helping them. The holidays, for instance, are a very busy time for many families. If you are feeling your calendar get more and more full now could be a great time to sit down and have a chat with your child about how they are feeling about all of this socializing. If they are hesitant, pull out this tip sheet and get to work! Not every single one of these tips will be helpful to your situation but sit down and read through it to see what you can try out. Maybe your child loves the idea of having a set exit time and plan but they think the idea of a safe word is something they aren't interested in. That is the beauty of tip sheets - take what you need and leave the rest.


This tip sheet will help to consider some things you can not only try before an event but at the event itself to help your child preserve their social battery and ultimately protect their mental health. The biggest thing that you can do is to just be on their team. Show them that you are there and you want to help. We particularly loved the tip about not embarrassing your child when they happen to have a sudden mood swing associated with a low or empty battery. Be on their side and show them everything is going to be okay.

young adults socializing

One section of the tip sheet that your child might love is the section that explains how they can recharge their battery. Thankfully, they will enjoy doing so. This section lays out that they simply need to do what feels relaxing to them. Whether it's playing video games, binge-watching a show, reading a book, arts and crafts, or going for a walk. Whatever it is that they do to unwind is exactly what they need to do to recharge.


Trust us, once your child is able to understand, recharge, and get to know how their social battery works; the better time they will have with the people they love. Trips to grandma's house will be much more meaningful if your child is able to fully engage, and they will hopefully begin to enjoy socializing with their friends again.


Do you like this resource? We love sharing great ideas like our brand new Social Battery Tip Sheet with you and other parents. Consider supporting the Parent Alliance so we can continue to get valuable resources into the hands that need them.



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