We teach our children not to talk to strangers, and then, all of a sudden, because of something called “the Family Reunion”, that is exactly what we want our kids to do! The young child is often timid around strangers, even when those strangers are actually relatives that you just don’t get to see very often. So how can you help your child feel comfortable around his relatives, without forcing him to give hugs and kisses to such strange people?
There are several steps you can take, to make sure that everyone enjoys the reunion, create some wonderful memories, and forge some new friendships for your child that may last a lifetime.
Introduce Your Child to Your Relatives
The first step is to introduce your relatives using a photo album. Take large, clear pictures of each relative, alone. Using a magnetic photo album, insert copies of the pictures into the pages, along with large, clear labels of each name. Magnetic albums are not good for your photographs. Over time, the colors will fade. For albums that you want to keep, you’ll need to look for “archival quality” paper, that is acid-free and lignen-free. But for a toddler’s picture book, nothing quite holds up like a sturdy magnetic album. That’s why you’ll make duplicate copies of your photos. One to put in your child’s magnetic picture book, and another to save.
Make A Picture Book of Your Relatives
This magnetic album is your child’s. Let him look through the pictures often. Read the names aloud to him. Ask him to tell the names back to you. When that relative calls on the phone, get the album out, and point to the right picture. Let the relative say “hi” to your young child on the phone, and encourage him to say something back. When you go through the book again, tell him short stories about each relative. Some little thing that may help him put names to faces. Like, “this is Great-Grandma Biggers. She likes to paint, and has a swimming pool at her house. This is your Great Aunt Liesa, she lives on a farm with lots of cows.” The stories can get longer as your child’s attention increases. The idea is to make that person seem real, so when your child meets them in person, they won’t be total strangers.
Bring the album with you to the reunion. Let your child make a game of finding each relative in his book among the group that has gathered.
Plan Some Games Just For the Children
Organize some children’s activities in advance. You can ask every person attending the reunion to come up with one child-activity and one adult-activity. Getting together and talking may be exciting for the old folks, but the young ones will be bored to tears. Make sure they have fun, and they will want to come again!
At one of our family reunions, one aunt brought a gallon of bubbles solution and a variety of wands and blowers. There were twelve young children there, who absolutely loved this simple activity. They took turns blowing bubbles and catching them, chasing the bubbles, and trying to catch them on their tongues. Another organized activity was a simple scavenger hunt. Later, someone brought out paper and paint, and yet another got them all in a circle for a game of duck-duck-goose. Nothing was difficult, but without pre-planning, it might have been challenging to come up with materials and games on the spur of the moment.
Maintain Your Child’s Daily Schedule
Don’t forget to keep your child somewhat on his schedule, even when on vacation. If he normally takes a two hour nap, and you don’t have him take a nap at all, you may be setting him up for a major tantrum when he gets over-tired. Nothing spoils the fun quite like a two-year-old acting like a two-year-old, and a bunch of older relatives giving you unwanted advice on how they never let their kids get away with that kind of behavior.
Avoid Hot Topics
Finally, if there are some touchy subjects that you really don’t want to talk about at the reunion, you might list them in the invitations in advance. Otherwise, try to think of all the annoying questions that really push your buttons, and brainstorm how you might answer them without causing conflict. Is there one relative that always brings up spanking? How do you usually respond to them? Is there a better way to handle that then what you’ve tried in the past?
When my children were young, my husband and I decided to homeschool them. Unfortunately, many of our relatives were public school teachers! As you can imagine, there might have been a lot of conflict at our get-togethers, but there wasn’t. My husband and I informed everyone in advance of our decision, and why. Then we went ahead and did it. We’d already earned the reputation for being a little “odd” because we didn’t let our children watch cartoons. I felt that most cartoons were violent, crude, scary, or perpetuating bratty behavior that we would not tolerate. So I had been censoring their television viewing habits for years before the homeschooling issue came up. At first, I remember hearing some relatives remark that cartoons were harmless, but a couple of years later they noticed how well-behaved and creative and intelligent our children were. Then when they heard someone else disparage children’s television programming, I heard those same relatives inform them proudly how we never let our children watch that stuff!
Family Reunions Are a Celebration of Life
Family reunions can be a wonderful way to build relationships. They can be a celebration of life, as we honor our elders and enjoy the newest generation. I have heard it said that the two most important things you can give your child are roots and wings. Roots, to know where he came from, and the freedom to fly from the nest when he’s ready. So enjoy your roots! And don’t forget to take some pictures!
Tags: don't talk to strangers, early childhood, family celebration, Family Reunions, get-togethers, introduce child to relatives, planning, Preschoolers, Strangers, tantrums, teach child about his relatives, toddlers