Our little family of four lives in Amsterdam, while the rest of our family live in the US, London, and Pakistan. Although we socialize and see relatives fairly often, seeing large groups of new faces is not part of our toddlers norm – and it can get overwhelming when we go on out-of-town family reunions. We noticed on our last trip to Pakistan, it took our kids a few days to become fully comfortable with relatives. By the end of it, the kids didn’t want to leave and only wanted to stay in my cousins arms – but I wish I had done a few things differently to get to that point earlier on in the trip.
Based on our lessons learned, I pulled together some tips on preparing toddlers for a large family reunion.
|Talk to your child about the upcoming reunion||Explain to your toddler what a family reunion is, who will be there, and why it’s important to attend. Use simple language and be enthusiastic.|
|Show them pictures and make introductions on FaceTime||Show your toddler pictures of family members they will be seeing at the reunion. Point out relatives they may not have met before and talk about their names and relationships. Whenever possible, try to introduce them to the people they will meet on a video call before the trip.
It’s also okay to let the other relatives know the dynamics of your kid’s personality. For example, I told my relatives that my daughter does not like to hug and be touched, unless she initiates it herself. Forcing her to hug someone will end up in a hysterical battle – but if she has time to ease in, she will likely give a hug on her own. Knowing this tendency helped my relatives bond more with her.
|Practice socializing||Encourage your child to practice socializing with other kids their age, such as at playdates or in a preschool setting. This can help them feel more comfortable interacting with other children at the reunion.|
|Stick to routine and bring familiar items||During the trip or reunion, try to stick to your child’s routine as much as possible, including nap and meal times. This can help them feel more secure and less overwhelmed by the new environment. Bring some of your toddler’s favorite toys, books, or blankets to the reunion to help them feel more at home and comfortable.|
|Plan activities you know your kids will enjoy with relatives||Plan some fun activities for your toddler to do during the reunion, such as playing games, doing crafts, or going for a walk with a family member. Activities that involve a physical activity like playing catch, tag, or some kind of ‘sport’ was the biggest success for our kids.
Additionally, our kids love it when people read to them or tell stories. If relatives really want to bond with them, we tell them to simply tell them stories and they will win them over.
|Be patient and understanding||Remember that toddlers can get overwhelmed easily, so be patient and understanding if your child needs a break from the excitement. Provide a quiet space for them to rest and recharge. When my kids became overwhelmed, I tried to spend the next morning with just us cuddling in bed and reading – to deregulate them.|
Overall, the key to preparing toddlers for a family reunion is to make it a positive and enjoyable experience. With some preparation and patience, your child can have a great time meeting new family members and reconnecting with familiar faces.