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How to help a shy child during large family gatherings.

A girl hugging her fatherI can’t believe I’m saying this but….

As we enter into the Fall/Winter holiday season, I’ve put together some Do’s and Don’t for helping your child navigate the world of new and distant relatives. For shy children the holidays, and the large gatherings of people they don’t know, can be overwhelming so here are some pinch hit ideas to help you, help them navigate family gatherings.

Do’s and Don’t for introducing children to new or unfamiliar family:

DO:

Respect the child’s boundaries and comfort levels around new people. Chances are, if your child is generally shy or introverted around new people, they will probably continue to be shy and introverted around a new family member. The fact that your child is related to someone does not magically change their temperament.

DON’T :

Force the child to hug and kiss someone(even if they are family) that they don’t know. If you have introduced “stranger danger” to your child then they be (appropriately) hesitant to get too chummy with a relative with whom they are unfamiliar. (no pun intended)

DO:

Come to your child’s aid if they are feeling uncomfortable. If you can tell that your child is overwhelmed or uneasy around their new relative(s) help them put words to their feelings. Be as concise as possible and with the child by your side say, “Tell Aunt Mildred, I’m shy and just need some space while I get to know you.” You are able to both validates and supports your child’s feelings while also sending a gentle and polite message to Aunt Mildred that your child needs some time to warm up.

DON’T:

Avoid family gatherings, reunions or get together because your child might be uncomfortable. You do your child no favors by simply refraining from the things that are difficult or challenging for them.

DO:

Prepare your child for their visit. Talk about the person you are going to go visit and look at pictures of them so that your child can start to develop a relationship before arrival. You might even be able to share something about the person while looking at the pictures that would help deepen the child’s connection to them. For instance you could say, “You and Uncle Henry both like to play the drums.”

DON’T:

Skip visits because of Physical Disabilities. If either your child or the relative you are going to visit is differently-abled or impaired you are better off to have an open but simple discussion prior to arrival. If it is your child that has a physical or emotional condition that requires specific accommodations you should talk about it with your relatives before you arrive, especially if you will be spending a substantial amount of time at their home. If it is the relative that has a disability answer your child’s questions with simple answers as best you can for instance, Grandpa uses a wheelchair so he can get leave the house and have fun.

DO:

Relax your schedule during visits with family if you don’t see them often. Unless your child is emotionally unable to tolerate change (see emotional disabilities) don’t beat yourself up if your routine gets thrown off . To avoid confusing your child let them know that this is a special occasion and you’ll go back to business as usual when the visit is done.

DON’T:

Use titles like Great or Second Twice Removed (does anyone know what that means?) Tell the child in a way they will understand, how they are related to the person by saying, “We are going to visit Mommy’s Daddy,” or “We are going to visit Grandma’s sister.” This will help them understand how they are related to their family members.