My brothers and their families are coming to stay with us this summer for two weeks. Between them, they have five children. As an only child, my daughter isn't used to sharing her room and her toys -- and our household is fairly quiet and orderly. Do you have any advice about what I can do to avoid problems?
Dear Apprehensive Host,
It is far better to teach your daughter to cope with others while she is a child than to let her grow up so sheltered that she can't manage lots of people in her space as an adult. What a wonderful opportunity you're creating for her to get to know her extended family.
Explain to her that while she won't have the privacy she is used to, she's likely to have lots of fun with her relatives. Have her put away any treasures she's concerned might get broken so she can relax when the other children explore her room -- which they will of course want to do. “If there are a few toys that you don't want your cousins to play with, let's put them in Mommy's closet so you won't worry about them.”
To help your daughter get used to her sudden “siblings,” make art projects and board games available. Also give the children plenty of opportunities to play outdoors, where your daughter will feel less territorial.
As your daughter adjusts to the increased noise and activity level, allow her to confide in you if she's having a hard time; offer her space to regroup, if she needs it. But don't try to insulate her from the chaos that may result when normal household rituals are disrupted. Children learn to be adaptable by being exposed to new experiences, people and routines.
You may also want to work with your brothers to lay out a few expectations that will help the visit go well. Hosting lots of people for an extended time in close quarters will be easier if you establish some ground rules -- and keep your sense of humor!
Determine what will be most useful for you and your family; below are a few ideas to get you started. You may want to begin by saying something like this:
We all know that machines need oil to run smoothly, right? Well, families need their own kind of oil to make sure there isn't too much friction. Here are some things that will help us have a great time together:
If feelings get hurt or you're having trouble getting along, ask an adult for help so little problems don't turn into bigger ones. If you make a mess, clean it up. We'll all spend 10 minutes or so after dinner tidying up the house... Keep in mind that there are just two bathrooms, so try to get in and out as quickly as you can.
Again, choose requests that are most appropriate for your particular family and situation. Be careful about delivering a long list of rules. Short and simple guidelines are more likely to be followed.
By keeping lines of communication open and doing a little preparation, you'll ensure that you and your family will have a wonderful time together. Chances are, your daughter will end up counting the days till her cousins come back again for a visit!
Yours in parenting support,
Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and credentialed teacher. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.