Is your Auntie game on point?

Is your auntie game on point?

3 Keys that make every Auntie worthy of envy

An aunt has a really special relationship to a child, and often serves as a trusted mentor and caregiver. Neither mother nor friend, an aunt fills a unique role in a child’s life, and every child deserves the experience brought on by the special bond that is formed between an aunt and their niece or nephew. An aunt can take on many forms, sometimes stepping in when a child’s parents are physically or emotionally unavailable or need a break for one reason or another. While many families define aunts as the female siblings to the child’s parents, the terms aunt and auntie are also widely accepted to be a nurturing adult woman in a child’s life, regardless of any biological or familial connection. 

Research shows that children benefit from spending time away from their parents in the company of supportive and loving adults. While the rules, experiences, and foods might be different at your home, those experiences are also positive for a child to get to have in the company of an adult who fulfills a protective and comforting role in their lives. Aunts often get the benefits of not having to be the day to day enforcers of dental hygiene routines and homework checkers – the kinds of things that kids find annoying coming from their parents. Having regular time with trusted adults in addition to parents is something that benefits both parents and children greatly. 

So what’s so special about an aunt anyway? And how can you be certain you’ve got the auntie game on lock? There are a few key components to every great auntie relationship worthy of envy.

Aunties show up early and often.

Set time aside for being with your niece or nephew and commit to making it a regular routine the child can count on. I recommend starting this early on in the child’s life! Infants and toddlers need their aunties too and the more familiar they become with you, the more they will look forward to the rituals you share, and turn toward you for comfort. It can start out simple, for example, you might carve out 2 or 3 hours every Thursday to bring your sibling some dinner and let them shower, run an errand, or nap, while you are on baby duty. Try choosing a song to sing or book to read that you do with the child each time you visit. Rituals are comforting for children and build familiarity and strengthen bonds. As time goes on, maybe those Thursday nights become a night where your niece or nephew comes to your house for dinner and you get to share a joint passion. 

If you live 2000 miles away from your beloved niece or nephew, don’t fret, you can still build this important ritual and get them familiar with your face and voice. Committing to reading them a story over Facetime every Tuesday evening is a great way to start showing up for your niece or nephew. Bonus – send some takeout to their parents so they get a bit of a break too!

Aunties play with children at their level.

Learning to interact with your niece or nephew at their current stage of development is an important part of bonding with them. Play is key to a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. Play is how children begin to understand the world around them, and when you play with children, you are both inviting them to be part of your world, while also showing them that you wish to be a part of theirs – and that’s a powerful message. 

So if you’re an auntie to an infant, this means, you guessed it – get down on the floor. Babies are learning to move their little bodies bit by bit and exploring the world around them all the time. When they’re first born, they cannot see very far from their faces and will find comfort being in closer proximity to you. Smile, make eye contact, and talk to the baby. You can sing songs, read stories, or just talk to them about your day or the world around you. Doing so builds familiarity with your voice and your face. The more you do so, you will become a familiar, and even preferred caregiver of the baby’s, and well on your way to being one of the favorite aunties. 

As they grow, continuing to create opportunities for play will continue to be important. I know for certain when I was growing up, my favorite experiences with aunties were tea parties with food fights, and the aunts I liked being with the most were the ones that were always down for a game of hide and seek, or tag, and let their closets become my personal dressing room. Those same aunts showed up at my recitals and soccer games, and their presence meant the world to me. 

Aunties show genuine interest in the things their niece or nephew cares about.

Children are very perceptive, even from infancy. They understand when someone is actively engaged and interested and when someone is not that interested or just doing what they think is expected. Asking children about things they are interested in, and then demonstrating a genuine interest and listening while they share with you about them will create a lasting bond. The more you demonstrate this ability to your niece or nephew, the more they will learn to rely upon your advice and support, and can seek you out when they need advice or something comes up they don’t feel comfortable going to their parents for. 

Engaging with Infants

So what does this look like with an infant? Taking a genuine interest in an infant does not come naturally to everyone, so don’t worry if it’s not immediately your forte either. Get at eye level with the baby, which may mean getting down on the floor with the baby, or laying the baby on a changing table and leaning down to their level. Stay actively engaged by making eye contact with the baby, use your hands with their hands or feet, and take turns in conversation. Babies do not have words at first, but they are picking up on the social aspects of language, such as taking turns to converse, from very early infancy. Speaking to the baby for a bit in an upbeat and engaging tone, then pausing to allow the baby to respond demonstrates your willingness to listen, and your desire for them to join the conversation. At first the baby’s response might be excited kicks and punches, and eventually will turn into smiles, coos, babbles, or giggles. 

Understanding the Preferences of Babies

Babies show preferences from even a couple weeks old, and the more you demonstrate your understanding of those preferences, and show interest in them, your level of comfort will grow with each other, and you will become better and better at planning activities you can enjoy together. For example, you might notice the baby showing interest in a toy that crinkles, showing them another toy or object that crinkles demonstrates to the baby that you’ve identified their interest. Babies can show preferences for colors, sounds, sights, and textures. Get creative in finding out what appeals best to your niece or nephew and expand upon it. This is also where setting aside regular time to spend with the baby will really lead to that level of bond and connection you are searching for. You will begin to notice things your niece or nephew has taken interest in, and planning activities or choosing toys they will like will become natural to you, because you know them so well. 

Listen with Intention and Interest

I have a reputation in my family for being the best gift giver. Every Christmas, after opening all their presents, all the kids in our family get to pick one toy to take out of the package and play with first on Christmas night. And every year, without fail, each and every one of them selects the toy or gift that I bought them as the prized item they just have to play with first. A few years ago, when other family members marveled at this same pattern year after year, my sister-in-law inquired as to how I manage to get the perfect gift every time. I thought about it for a moment and the answer was so simple – I listen to the children with intention and interest, and I share those interests in return with my gift giving. I don’t give from some preconceived notions of what a 3 year old boy or a 7 year old girl should be playing with, but instead think about the child’s interests and give something that I know little Alice or Everett will be excited to explore. I’m able to do this by incorporating all of these aspects of being a great auntie:

  • Showing up consistently and often.
  • Having unique rituals and routines that I share with each of my nieces and nephews.
  • Playing with them on their level.
  • Showing genuine interest in them and the things that matter to them. 

Have you recently been promoted from sister to aunt or expecting the title in the near future? Come join our webinar on the ins and outs of being the kind of aunt every child adores and would be lucky to have!