My kids and I are headed to Texas this week for a family reunion. I am beyond excited. The last time I was in Texas, my oldest was about 18 months old. Now, I have added two more kids to my family that have never met my Texas relatives. I have a grandmother in Texas, and lots of Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins. None of them have met my two boys, and my oldest hardly remembers them.
Like most kids, my kids can be shy around people they don't know very well. So, a family reunion can probably feel like throwing your kids into a lion's den. A lion's den full of people that are probably just dying to cuddle, hold, and play with them. Relatives that think of them automatically as little people that they love, even though they may have never met. The last thing you want is for your relatives to feel rejected, and you probably also don't want your kids to be overwhelmed. So, what can you do?
Helping your children get to know their relatives ahead of time is key. You can do this a number of ways. Here are a few ideas.
Put together a Photo Album or Memory Game with relative's photos
Draw a family tree with your kids. Better yet, fingerpaint one! Keep it simple, introducing them to the names and relationship of those closest to you.
Talk about your relatives. Share stories with your children ahead of time about your favorite Aunt, or something that you loved doing at your Grandparent's house as a kid.
Help them put relatives in perspective to their own lives. For example, ask them who their favorite cousin is? Why? Share with them how you have cousins too. Also, ask them if they knew that you also have aunts, uncles, and grandparents, etc.
Don't push them too fast. Unfortunately, sometimes you don't have a lot of time with a relative for your child to take a lot of time to warm up to them. So, reassure them ahead of time that you love all the people they are going to meet just like they love their own cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
Stay close to them, and help your relatives think of ways to interact with your children. Maybe give your relatives a list of things for them to talk to your children about. You could include things like, your children's favorite shows, movies, toys, or what they are doing in school. Share with your relatives some of your children's friend's names, or favorite stories.
Encourage your relatives to have a little token gift that your children can take with them. This way, you can continue to talk about your relatives after, so they will remember your relatives every time they play with that toy.
In this day and age, so many of us live far away from dear family members that we love. It is easy to keep in touch through digital media. Sit down with your children and show them pictures of your relatives on your facebook account.
If you take the time to prepare your kids, they will not feel overwhelmed at meeting a bunch of strangers. If anything, they will feel excited to finally meet the family that you have helped them get to know.