1.) Make sure everyone is well-rested. Attending a reunion often involves traveling long distances, which can be tiring to both adults and children alike. If possible, plan on arriving to the reunion locale at least two nights before the actual reunion. This will give kids a chance to get used to their temporary sleeping arrangements. While it is hard to maintain your family's usual schedule on the road, try to have the kids stick to their normal bedtime that night before the reunion itself, so hopefully they will have a good sleep.
2.) Allow children to dress comfortably. Everyone wants to look their best for the rest of the family to see, but a full day in 'church clothes' is just going to make kids cranky. Dress kids in garments made of breathable fabrics that fit a bit on the looser side. Bring along an extra change of clothes for everyone, and that includes an extra set of shoes, especially if your reunion is an outdoor one.
3.) Do not force children to greet other relatives with a kiss and/or hug, and tell your children that it is ok to politely refuse. I'm a firm believer in teaching children bodily autonomy from young ages and being able to actively say yes or no to these types of affection falls into that category. Teach your children how to give a good handshake, and tell them that that is another option to consider when greeting family members, but even that should be their choice. Plus, if a child has an awkward encounter with a little-known family member right off the bat, what are the chances that that child will even try to talk with that person again? Slim to none.
4.) Make sure there are plenty of kid-friendly food and drinks. Great Aunt Alice's famous potato salad recipe might be a favorite among the adults, but the kids might not be fans. Simple food is always best when it comes to pleasing kids, and, if you think there won't be foods your kids like at a family gathering, there is no shame in bringing along your own. (Lots of families end up doing this anyway if they have special dietary needs.) If you're organizing the reunion, make sure there is always some sort of food out for snacking, too; lots of kids are, by nature, grazers and just eat small portions often throughout the day. Forcing kids to wait all day for a big late afternoon dinner without other food options will make a lot of kids (and some adults) pretty cranky.
5.) Create quiet, kid-only spaces. Reunions can be overstimulating for many kids. It's a great idea to create one or two spaces on the periphery of the main gathering space, where kids can go to get some quiet alone time. Set up a couple of camping tents and let the kids know that these are their spaces in which to retreat when it all gets to be too much. If you have a noise-sensitive child, consider bringing along noise-cancelling headphones to wear if they get overwhelmed.
6.) Have kids bring their security items to the reunion. Blankets, lovies, special toys, pacifiers - let them have them during the reunion. They are called security things for a reason - they help a child feel safe, and in the hectic environment of a large family reunion, they might need them more than ever.
7.) Keep yourself available, both physically and emotionally, to your child(ren). I know that that can be difficult, especially if you are helping out with various facets of the reunion itself, but you are their ultimate security 'blanket.' If they need some cuddle time, or to be brought to a quiet place, indulge them. Chances are, within a few minutes, they'll be ready to get back to all the fun.
8.) Have a wide variety of activities available to entertain kids. Some kids will naturally gravitate towards group games, like tug-o-war or water balloon fights, while other children would much rather pass the time with individual or small group activities, like puzzles, coloring, cards, or simple board games. Organized games and activities can be great, but make sure there are plenty of toys and things to do that are just there, always out, always accessible for kids to just pick up and start with on their own. Of course, the Activities page of this website has lots of game and activity ideas that can be used at family reunions, but I encourage you to check out the resources below as well, for ideas on how to keep all types and ages of kids busy and happy at your reunion:
FamiyLocket.com Post Index and Family History Ideas for Children and Teens (lots of ideas for children's activities and ideas for family reunions)
10 Fun Family Reunion Activities for Kids - GatheredAgain.com
10 Fun Family Reunion Games - ReserveAmerica.com
Super-Fun Ideas for Family Reunions - Parents Magazine
The 30 Best Family Reunion Games, Activities, & Ideas - GenealogyBank.com
What other tips do you have for creating positive family reunion experiences for kids? Leave a comment and let me (and other readers) know!
© 2019, Emily Kowalski Schroeder