Do you live near your extended family? Or do you live in a whole different country, away from all relatives, like we do?
Either way, there are many ways to foster close relationships between family members – even those who live very far apart. Here are ten ideas I am using to contribute to building a more loving extended family. I hope you will enjoy them, and please feel free to add your own ideas in the comments!
This article is part of my series “Sharing the Love: 100 Ways for You and Your Kids to Make a Difference In The World.” I believe the more we shower love on and expose love to our kids, the more love they will spread in the world. Follow along here.
1. Show How Much You Appreciate Them
Recognize their birthdays, speak kindly, and show genuine concern for your extended family members. Children will probably learn most about how important their relatives are (and therefore want to spend time with them and build a relationship with them) through your example.
2. Plan Meaningful Experiences
When you do spend time together, don’t limit yourself to dinner and movies. Visit museums and markets. Go out to a restaurant with a type of food you have never tried. Offer community service together (here are some great ideas from Kid World Citizen). Put a bit of extra time into planning meaningful experiences, and these memories will be unforgettable.
3. Utilize Skype
Skype is just fabulous for long distance relationships; we use it every few days between grandparents and aunties. But it can also be useful for families living nearby, if you just don’t get a chance to visit often. Check out this post by B-Inspired Mama for 20 fun ways to use skype between family members. Don’t forget to invite your children to share their favorite art projects or inventions over the webcam, as well!
4. Arrange a Postcard Exchange
My boys are just getting to the age when they might appreciate this – and after our next family reunion I hope to organize a postcard exchange between all the cousins. I think they will have so much fun!
For older kids, of course, letter writing would be great, as well.
5. Create a Wishing Well/Prayer Box of Family Photos
We have an empty decorated tissue box where we keep small photographs of all our extended family members. Every so often, we have the kids pick out a few people at random to say prayers for (you can also “make wishes” for them). It’s a nice way to see faces you haven’t seen for a while and to keep these relatives in everyday conversation.
6. Save Cards as Memorabilia
We have a box where I keep all the cards that have been sent or given to us. When we add a new one, we take a look at some of the past cards to remember the various relatives who care about us. I think this helps create familiarity with the names, so when the kids do see the relatives in the future they will already “know” them.
7. Hang Up Family Photos
This might seem obvious, but having pictures of extended family around the house will help you all feel they are “close” and important. Helping the kids put a name with the face is always important, as well!
8. Regularly Mention Memories
Tell your kids about memories you have had together and favorite experiences you treasure, with as many relatives as you can. Ask them if they remember times they spent with various extended family members, also.
9. Add Their Names to Your Nightly Routine
We don’t have the luxury of including extended family in on our regular bedtime routine, but we can mention them. “Grandma loves you, Grandpa loves you…” is a lovely way to keep them in mind.
10. Don’t Give Up
Fostering relationships can take a lot of work. Don’t give up if you don’t get to see relatives often or if they live far away. Just give your children the opportunities to interact and remember the relatives whenever possible, and take heart that you are doing your best to help these relationships grow.
Thanks for reading and feel free to leave your own suggestions/experiences in the comments below. Next in the series I will be sharing 10 acts of love you and your kids can offer your neighborhood. See the past entries in the series by clicking here.
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I love your suggestions, particularly the prayer box. That sounds like a great way for our family to get better at nightly prayer too. I’ve done a few things to help my little one remember/get to know extended family members. I made a heart garland with photos of extended family members that hangs in her room – http://toddlefast.blogspot.com/2013/01/valentines-day-sensory-bin.html and I made a memory game with extended family member – http://toddlefast.blogspot.com/2013/01/family-photo-memory-game.html Having photos that we did something with helped her recognize family members!
Chelsea Lee Smith
What awesome ideas Kristen thanks for sharing!
yes, we also have a memory game with pictures of grandparents and aunts and uncles and I’m planning to put together a small book with pictures of all of our family members to “read” before bedtime, so we can talk about what they like or what we’ve experienced together or pray for them, etc. – love your ideas as well!
Thanks for the great post Chels. My family live away from us also. One thing I enjoyed making to help my boys remember their extended family was to create a large “family tree”. Using Microsoft publisher I collated all the different photos of our entire extended family (4 generations) with their names under each photo, and arranged the photos like a bit family tree showing the different relationships between each person. We printed it out onto 6 pieces of A4 paper and stuck it up on the boys wall. They loved it! Since we moved house though, it seems to have gotten misplaced. I really enjoy reading your blogposts… keep up the great work.
Expat Life with a Double Buggy
This is full of great ideas. Sometimes we really have to be creative as parents to keep extended family close despite physical distance. I wrote about our experiences with extended family too and lesson learnt is that physical distance is not a show stopper! http://expatchild.com/expat-family-ties/
Leanna @ Alldonemonkey
Great ideas! We live far away from both of our families, so these are great ideas! Right now we Skype a lot, plus I made a photo album of our last trip to visit family. I love the prayer box idea, plus I think you are right that kids pick up our attitudes, so if we are conscious about sharing how important our family members are to us, they will learn from our example.
Also, it seems really “old-fashioned” in the era of Skype, but I talk on the phone a lot to my family members, and my son is very aware of this and often jumps into the conversations as well. I have had numerous conversations with my nieces and nephews, which can be really funny for the little ones!
This has so many great ideas! I love the idea of a postcard exchange, I might need to try it with my extended family. Something me and my family do are fun and meaningful discussions at dinner time. It’s enjoyable conversation and helps us get to know each other. I hadn’t thought of trying it out with extended family but why not? Here’s a site we like to go to for our discussions https://www.dinnerdiscussions.com/about/conversation-starters-for-teens-and-kids/
Another idea is to have a clothing exchange. We do this on my mom’s side of the family (she was born in a family with 12 siblings and most of them are girls). We get together with the clothes we don’t wear anymore and see if anyone wants them before the big DI trip. It’s been a lot of fun, super nice when some of my Aunts like designer clothes because I can get them for free!