Dr. Corinne Masur
Recently, the New York Times Parenting Blog posted on the topic of how to be a better aunt (see link below). What an interesting topic! And I have a few ideas of my own for aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends of young children.
Some people are naturals when it comes to forming relationships with young children – and some people are not. Some people know how to engage a child easily – and some people feel hurt when they ask a young child, “how was school today?” and the child just stares blankly at them or runs away.
Here are a few tips for those who want to be closer to their nieces, nephews, grandchildren or children of friends and just can’t seem to bridge the age gap:
1. Visit. Visit often. Do not rely on the phone or video chats to make a relationship work with a child.
2. When you visit, get down on the floor with the child. Whatever they are doing, join them. Make observations about what they’re doing. Compliment them in some way – for example, you can say “Wow! That is a BIG lego car you’re building!” Children, especially those six and under, live in the moment. Questions about something they are NOT doing at the moment (school, sports teams, etc.) won’t go anywhere, but discussion of what they are doing right now may.
3. Time with the child is a good investment. Each time you visit, spend at least 10 or 15 minutes focused just on the child, Just this small amount of time will start to build the relationship you have been wanting with the child.
4. When you visit you can sometimes bring a project or an idea for a project. Find out from the parents what the child’s interests are and clear the project with the parents first. Do you want to make cupcakes? Would you like to build this lego spaceship with me? Do you want to do a puzzle together? Doing something together on a regular basis will build your relationship with the child and your feeling of closeness with them.
5. If you know that a parent is not feeling well or is extra busy at the moment, offer to step in for an hour or two. This will build your relationship with the child and the parent will be eternally grateful!
6. Gifts are good – but they are not the best way to actually deepen a relationship. All children love gifts – but many aunts and uncles and grandparents have felt disappointment when a child does not thank them or seem grateful for a gift. Moreover, as thoughtful as the gift may be, outside of the context of an already established relationship, they will probably not work to make a relationship happen.
7. Take the child on adventures. Once you feel you have a relationship with the child, after having done some projects together, with the permission of the parents, take the child on some adventures. For young children, keep it simple: a visit to a particularly fun park, lunch in a restaurant, tea at a hotel or a trip to the zoo for a few hours is a good way to start. If you have multiple nieces, nephews, grandchildren or young friends, try to take each child, one at a time, for an outing, The parents will love you, and the child, if they feel comfortable with you, will feel special. For an older child, a movie or a play is fun, but even better is doing something where the two of you can talk and experience something together.
Relationships are precious and the more children in your life, the better! If relating to young children is not your forte, try some of these ideas and read more below: