Holiday Hospitality and Etiquette for Children and Teens Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Grandparents are presenting gifts to a mother, father and their two children at the door to their home.

Tonight, I’m heading to my friend’s for dinner and a movie. Do you know what’s funny? I can almost hear my mom’s voice, “Shannon, don’t go empty-handed.” Mom will be pleased; I’ll come bearing ginger snap tea, a simple holiday treat, for my host.

The season of all seasons is upon us (finally!) and plans for hosting or visiting others are being made; this is an ideal, natural opportunity to instill related etiquette in our children. In other words, let’s provide those sage words which will forever gently remind them of gracious living. “Don’t go empty-handed.”

With a lack of or reduced incidental learning taking place with children and teens who are blind or visually impaired, let’s consider what we can explicitly teach this holiday season.

Hosting with the most-ing

Yeah, terrible title. But just what does one need to know to successfully host?

  • It’s generally expected to tidy and clean before hosting a holiday meal or party. This will include ensuring dishes, serving ware, and glasses are well cleaned (goodbye, dust on Mr. Rarely-Used-Platter!); replacing soiled hand towels; cleaning the bathrooms, floors, counters, and table; dusting, wiping windows and mirrors, and cleaning baseboards if overdue. Read VisionAware’s Housecleaning Tips to learn about cleaning techniques for people who are blind or visually impaired. It should be stated that friends don’t expect sparkling clean houses and “being real” with each other is healthy. There’s a balance. Think of it as cleaning with the right intent; the intent isn’t to impress, but to make our guests feel welcome, respected, safe, and comfortable.
  • If welcoming overnight guests, ensure clean bedding is on guest beds or makeshift beds (I’m talking about you, couches!). If you’re needing laundry tips for individuals who are blind or visually impaired, look no further: Laundry and Laundromats. Additionally, give overnight guests access to snacks and drinks. (Yes, you’ll want to have extra groceries on hand.)
  • Just as you tidy your home, ensure you tidy yourself! You want to smell and look confident and welcoming. Cue article: Teaching Your Child Self-Care Skills. 
  • Ask guests if they have any food allergies or aversions.
  • It’s wise to stick with tried and true recipes, or at least ones you feel confident with. When hosting a party of seven, it isn’t the time to wing a new cooking technique—don’t ask me how I know. Here you’ll find cooking techniques for people who are blind or visually impaired, including tips on making holiday cookies!
  • If guests ask if they can bring something, let them know if you’d appreciate them bringing either a side dish or dessert. And it’s okay to ask them to bring a dish even if they don’t ask. “Hi Daryn, I’m looking forward to having you over for the holiday party; it’d be great if you can bring a favorite side dish that pairs well with the Italian pasta I’m making.”
  • Know how to set the table and consider if your party will have a prepared table or buffet-style service with no table-setting necessary.
  • Remember your manners: hang up your guests’ coats upon arrival; thank the guests for coming over; ask the guests if you can get them a drink; show them to the room the party is in as well as the location of the bathroom; use table manners such as chewing with your mouth closed, asking to please pass a dish or condiment, keeping elbows off the table, wiping mouth with a napkin, and using silverware properly. Consider reading Easier Eating and Pouring.
  • Refresh yourself on making small talk and conversation starters. Remember to not bring up heated topics such as politics. You may want to read The Muse’s 48 Questions That’ll Make Awkward Small Talk So Much Easier

Explain to your child that there will likely be a few blunders when hosting—perfection isn’t the goal. If the food is burned, laugh it off and order pizza. No big deal. What is a big deal is the attitude of the host. Be gracious and kind. Guests will likely leave happy if they were made to feel welcome and cared for. This can be accomplished by considering your guests’ particular interests (talk about them!), preferred food (incorporate it!), and simply having a welcoming attitude.

The best guest

And just what does one need to know to be a gracious guest?

  • Don’t go empty handed. (I just had to say it.) Ask the host what side dish or dessert you can bring; if the offer is refused, consider a small gift such as a special drink, flowers, or a gift for the home such as a holiday candle.
  • Let the host know if you’ll be bringing a guide dog.
  • Let the host know of any food allergies. Remind them again of allergies upon arrival; ask which dishes contain an allergen and take responsibility to avoid them.
  • Prepare yourself—you want to look and smell neat and clean. If you aren’t sure how formal to dress, feel free to ask the host.
  • Show up on time, perhaps a few minutes early.
  • Take your shoes off as you enter the house.
  • Thank your friend, family, or coworker for hosting.
  • Remember your manners: chew with your mouth closed, ask others to please pass a dish or condiment, keep elbows off the table, wipe mouth with a napkin, and use silverware properly.
  • If your dinner is plated for you, ask the host if he/she can describe the location of each food item using the clock method (“Meat is at 12 o’clock; rice is at 3; salad is at 6.”)
  • Refresh yourself on making small talk and conversation starters. Remember to not bring up heated topics such as politics.

Most importantly, have a thankful, helpful attitude. Ask how you can help the host with preparations and consider how you can serve the host.

Remember that more is caught than taught. Be an example of a gracious host and guest, and share your thought process with your child. And don’t hesitate to invite your child to take responsibility for a dish and preparation for the evening.