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Long Distance Relatives: Building Family Relationships with Children

A happy family with a healthy family relationship

During the holiday season, we are often reunited with family members we don’t see frequently. To adults, this can be a joyous occasion and cause for celebration. To children, this can feel overwhelming, scary, and cause for hiding behind dad’s pant legs. 

Fortunately, with a bit of pre-planning and considering the experience from the child’s perspective, parents can make things go a lot more smoothly. Here are some tips and activities for parents to help introverted kids overcome their shyness around family members.

How Can You Help Your Children Overcome Shyness & Anxiety with Family Members?

  1. Plan arrival time. Plan your child’s or your family member’s arrival at a quiet time. It can help your children overcome shyness and anxiety if you let them get used to the space, people, and commotion.
  2. Prepare children. Tell your children stories about the people they will spend time with. This will encourage children to look forward to building family relationships with the stars of these stories and will make them seem friendlier.
  3. Have a photo show. Pull out old photos and show your children with whom they will be spending the holidays. You might even make a small photo album. Make sure to take photos of your children with each family member and use those photos next year!
  4. Prepare the family members. Tell them that your child takes a while to warm up to new people or is a finicky eater to help family members manage expectations and keep the child’s needs in mind.
  5. Create a transition activity. Plan an activity your children can do with family members to take the pressure off. It can be as simple as paper and crayons, a board game, playing catch, or putting together a cookie tray. Feeling like the center of attention can feel unnerving to a child; focusing on an activity together can relieve the stress.
  6. Respect children’s feelings. If your child is feeling shy, anxious or nervous, don’t push her into the room or hand her over to an overly enthusiastic relative. Let her ease in at her own pace - it might seem slow, but your respect of her feelings will help her warm up faster and trust the situation more.
  7. Don’t hover. If your children are connecting with others, give them space to do so. It's likely relatives might not say or do things just like you do or your child may not remember all of their manners. But, as long as your child is safe, it might be best to let a few things go. Children might wonder why you’re so nervous and may get anxious if you’re always watching.

Long Distance Family Relationship Building Activities

Other times, we don’t have the opportunity to spend time with family. Perhaps grandparents are in another state, a loved one is deployed, or you just have one too many commitments during the holiday season. Regardless of the reason, it can be a challenge to keep young children connected with distant family members or to build strong family relationships. Here are some great activities to help your child connect with family members and build a relationship over long distances.

  • Video chat. Take advantage of children's knowledge of new technology and plan a video chat session. This may take a little pre-planning to accommodate for time zones and getting used to the technology, but once you get started, everyone will have fun. To get things started, ask your relative to be prepared to read a story. Asking relatives to write down and share their history is a great way to connect children with their long-distance relatives in a meaningful way. 
  • Long Distance Puzzles. Send a few puzzle pieces at a time for a puzzle that sends a message or has a custom photo.
  • Flat Family Member. Most of us know the concept of “Flat Stanley” based on a book of the same name: a paper cut out of a boy who travels around. Recreate this idea and have a flat grandma, brother, aunt, etc. Take photos with the flat relative joining in holiday activities.
  • Share Schedules. If you’re in different time zones, share schedules and then talk about what the relative is doing at different times during the day. (i.e. “We’re having lunch and Grandpa and Grandma are just waking up!”)

It’s never easy to maintain long-distance family relationships. But, regardless of how often you see relatives or the distance between you, efforts to keep children connected to them are important and will create a special kind of holiday memory.

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