Do you have any family reunions or large gatherings planned for the summer?
My family of origin is fairly small so our gatherings aren't huge. But the words "family reunion" make me picture large boisterous groups of distantly related people along with lots of noise, games, food and stimulation. My husband's side of the family is big and we have plans to attend a large family gathering soon. My kids will be meeting many distant family members for the first time!
It makes me mindful of my four kids and their unique personalities and responses to different environments. I can picture some of my kids jumping right into the unknown territory and having a blast. I can also picture some of my kids feeling very overwhelmed by the noise, the unfamiliar people and the uncertain time frames. If you have a child who's sensitive, shy, easy overwhelmed, or tends towards feeling anxious then here are a few things that could help you set your family up for more successful reunions.
1. Make some of the unknowns known.
If you have a child or teen who does better when they understand how the day will go, you can share a rough outline of the time frames. "We plan to arrive at the party around 11 and have time to chat and play games. Around 12 we will all have lunch. We plan to stay at the party until 3."
2. Prepare your child for how to greet relatives.
What are the expectations in your family? Some relatives expect a hug or a kiss when they say hello or good-bye to kids. I'm personally not a fan of insisting that my kids give hugs or kisses to people and would rather let them choose. But depending on your family dynamics and culture you can help prepare your kids for these greetings. I might tell my kids, "When you're meeting new relatives I'd like you to make eye contact and say hello. If someone wants a hug from you, it's your choice. You can give a hug or you can offer a handshake, a fist bump or high five." If the relative is someone we have a closer relationship with I might say, "Grandma and Grandpa would love to get a hug when they see you. Maybe you have one in your back pocket to share. 😉"
3. Consider your exit plan.
If you know you have a sensitive or anxious child, you probably know in advance that their tolerance for some events is limited. Are there opportunities to give that child a break from the stimulation? Maybe it's allowing a quieter child to bring a book and find a peaceful spot to read after they've met their limit. Perhaps you consider having one adult leave the party earlier with a child, while the other kids who are enjoying the party can stay longer with another adult.
4. Stay close.
Often at gatherings adults get to talk to other adults while the kids run and play. But what if your child isn't feeling comfortable in the situation and wants to stay close to you? Being aware that behaviors are always communicating something, you might look for the need beneath the behavior. Can you allow your child to stay close until they are ready to go play, or help your child join in with the other kids by joining in the game as well? Pushing a child into the action when they aren't ready is likely to cause more anxious feelings but being sensitive to their need for more time to warm up will build trust and connection 🥰
5. Bring something familiar
Would bringing something familiar help your child? Maybe it's a favorite yard game they already know how to play and can share with others. Maybe it's a favorite stuffed animal or a blanket. Likely you are also an object of security for your child, so bringing something that your child can do or play near you (beads, coloring, magnet toys, books) might be just the ticket!
Have a sense of humor, be flexible and patient and you will create fond memories at your family reunion!