We love our siblings and seeing our children playing their days away with their cousins brings us joy, but when your nieces and nephews come for a sleepover that’s a different ball game. There is no mammy or daddy to hand them to when needed and no switching off really when they are in your care.
Whether you have no children of your own or your children are looking forward to some overnight cousin time, here are a few tips to help it run smoothly.
Have the house somewhat cleaned and organised before the arrival of your nieces and nephews. As close as you may be to them, when they’re not your own kids you’ll need to concentrate more on their movements (especially if there is a toddler involved) and there may not be time to catch up on the ironing or scrub that dirty floor.
Clear a space in a safe part of a room for the suitcases, buggies and nappy bags. There they will stay without being a trip hazard until you have a chance to look through them.
Two things that a child needs to function are sleep and nutritious food. If a child in my care has been acting up and is emotionally off centre, it has almost always been discovered that they are either lacking in sleep or have a poor diet. Such simple solutions to an upset child but can easily be overlooked when emotions are high and grating on a parent’s nerves. So it is important to remember when your niece/nephew is excited (and maybe a little nervous too) about staying away from home for the night they will need to nourished with balanced meals to help them cope. Stick with real food and try to avoid the processed stuff.
Having said that, your cooking will not be the same as they get in their own homes, so chicken nuggets and chips may be all that they will consume. Try, however, to make sure they have healthy snacks in between the junk meals. Stock up on their favourite fruit and slow release cereals and grains like weetabix and popcorn. Dishing out bags of sweets each time they complain of being hungry won’t do anyone any favours. Though do have a sweet treat for movie time, you’ll want to earn some brownie points!!
.. and plenty of it! We all know that fresh air and exercise does nothing but good things to a young body and mind, not to mention getting rid of excess energy so that some sleep will be had that night! If possible, visit a local park or forest for a change of scenery and a neutral ground and if they are away from your home they will stay outside for that bit longer.
Keep Toddler Happy
Toddlers can be tricky when they are in an unusual environment. One minute they are very thrilled to be hanging out with you, but the next they are not sure they should have let mummy exit earlier that day. I find it helps to let the the toddler feel they are in charge. Follow their lead in play and don’t bother having any major plans as to what activities you will undertake together. If they want to walk from room to room or all around the garden, follow them and respond to their chat and suggestions. This will make them feel loved and respected and in turn they will feel some control over this environment that is not their home.
Empathize with them when they start to miss mummy or daddy by responding with something like “yes, you miss mummy. Mummy is lovely” but quickly distract them with something that will interest them. You haven’t ignored their concerns but you haven’t dwelled on them either.
Know in advance what will comfort the toddler and make sure their parents have included these things in the luggage. At the beginning of their visit, let your toddler niece or nephew know where these comforts are kept in case they are needed and show them where you will be storing their soothers and bottles etc.
Keep a toddler’s bedtime as close as possible to their usual bedtime. An overtired toddler is not going to be easy to comfort or settle down.
As for older children (around 6 years and over), expect a late night especially if you have children of your own. I have fond memories of spending long nights with my sister and two of our cousins all in one bed telling corny jokes and having farting competitions!
Make sure hands and faces have been washed, teeth brushed and bed sheets are fresh & clean so that they are as comfortable as possible and can go off to sleep if they so wish (ha, yeah right!). Have them go to bed before they get too tired and let them chat and giggle as long as they need. Ground rules such as ‘no raising our voices’ or ‘no jumping on the bed’ can be laid down before bedtime.
A child who is older than a toddler but a little too young to be able to settle down with a lot of company in the room could be allowed to join in the fun with the older children for a while and then offered a pre prepared cozy bed/mattress either in the same room or a separate one. It depends on the child, but you could stay with this little fella with a favourite book until he settles so that he doesn’t feel left out.
Enjoy their company!
Make a point of soaking up all the energy and fun that comes from having nieces and nephews. If they see that you genuinely enjoy their company you will be thought of as the fun aunt/uncle (admit it, you would be chuffed with that!).
For those really bad weather days when you have a house full of excited kids here are some fun indoor game ideas (all in this blog site) that cost little to nothing…