Aunts and uncles can be the adult friend a child needs. For example, a child could be too nervous to talk about their crush in maths class or the bully on the playground with their parents. They certainly want to address these issues with someone but may feel their parents will be dismissive or explosive about what’s bothering them. Cue in the “cool uncle” who listens without the judgmental and presumptive attitudes parents could show when addressing touchy topics with their kids.
Aunts and uncles may have a more relaxed approach with their nieces and nephews, offering different and more encouraging solutions to a child’s problems. They are more likely to tell their nieces and nephews embarrassing stories about their parents. These and other entertaining exchanges could help solidify a powerful and trusting relationship between aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews for many years.
Aunts and uncles don’t necessarily have to be related to be influential. Over many years, I’ve taken on the role of “aunt” to several children I’m not related to. When I do chat with them, these beautiful little girls recall the fun times they had with “Miss Monica.” For example, I took my good friend’s daughter to the beach for her first time when she was 8. She’s 14 now and still asks me to take her swimming before she asks her mother.
So how can aunts and uncles who want to be more involved in their nieces’ and nephews’ lives be positive role models? According to Amy Goyer, a family expert with AARP, being open, listening more, and being free of judgement helps build a foundation of comfort and trust with a child. Routine contact with the child via text or social media helps them recognize that you care about them and are genuinely interested in what they are up to. Goyer recommends that aunts and uncles be available for a niece or nephew’s track meet or choir concert, or to babysit them for the weekend. This can help the child identify you as a reliable figure in their lives who will always be there for support.
Playing the role of the authoritative but cool, fun-loving aunt or uncle can install more liberated and inventive inspirations in a child alongside the more expected structured and habituated genes from their actual parents. Most importantly, aunts and uncles are capable of providing a child a unique kind of love and influence that will stick with them for years to come.