By Michelle Mady
‘Tis the season for families to get together. As winter inches nearer, there are more opportunities for extended family members to visit. This time for family togetherness can be a bit overwhelming for younger ones, especially with the addition of people who are seen a lot less often. With the pandemic precautions easing around us, it is more likely to see people who children have not seen in years - or maybe even ever!
Just as you would need to do with your family’s feast, the best way to support children in the festivities is through preparation. Be sure to take the time to let them know who is coming and when. If you are traveling, make sure they know the travel plans. Even children who may not be able to fully understand all the details will benefit in having a rough idea of what to expect.
Just as you would need to do with your family’s feast, the best way to support children in the festivities is through preparation.
But preparation is more than just letting children know what’s going on, it also means including them in other aspects of the day.
Having family over? Let your child pick out some fun tablecloth or napkins to add to the table. Going on a road trip? Allow your child to pack a bag of toys for the car and a special toy to show off to the family. Going to someone else’s home? Have your child bring some coloring supplies to share with any other children. Any way you can include your child will make it easier in the long run.
Travel plans are not the only changes that need to be addressed. Sometimes changes that might seem subtle to adults can be jarring for children. Did grandma dye her hair brown? Maybe Aunt Jane doesn’t wear glasses anymore, but wears contact lenses now instead. Maybe Grandpa now relies on his walker more, making him less mobile. Giving children updates on even their favorite people will make it a more predictable and comfortable setting.
Adding people that are unfamiliar is also a challenge when including young children. Uncle Tim may have not been able to come to Thanksgiving dinner over the past few year, but he is excited to arrive this year. Show your child a few pictures of those unfamiliar people and tell them a fun story or fact about that person. Having some information to build on will help support socialization during the big event.
Even with all the preparation, young children can be unpredictable. Let them lead the way and follow their cues. If they seem really into the socialization piece and want to greet each guest with a hug, go with it! If they are overwhelmed by the amount of people and new (or less recognized) faces and would rather sit in a quiet area and play with some toys, go with it!
Even with all the preparation, young children can be unpredictable. Let them lead the way and follow their cues
The most important thing to prepare before a family gets together is yourself! Set your expectations and ensure that they are realistic. Your reserved child will likely not want to show off their most recently learned dance moves or recite a song they learned at school. Your outgoing child will be so excited with all of the new social connections that they will likely not be able to sit for a formal dinner. You know your child best; tap into that knowledge to make family time meaningful, but realistic!
About the author: Michelle is a mom of 5 children ranging in age from 5 to 15. As a toddler and preschool teacher, she shares experiences, activities and guidance to other parents, as both a parent and as a professional early childhood educator, at any stage of their parenting journey.
Photo credit: iStock.com_skynesher