Applied Auntie Skills 101: Summer intensive
December 20, 2012 4:49 PM   Subscribe

I have a week to hang out with my 3-year old nephew. Yay! What things can I do to make some fun shared memories, cement my status as an Awesome Auntie and lay the groundwork for interesting Skype chats after I go home?

He was under two last time we met so he doesn't really remember me. We do Skype once a month or so, but it's hard to hold his attention and sometimes he asks his Mum who I am. This is understandable of course - he's only three! - but I would like to use the brief time I have with him to form a stronger bond.

We will be in the non-Western country where his parents live as expats, which means I won't be able to take him out on adventures the way I would back home. Fun things we can do at home or while out and about with his parents are best. General 3-year-old wrangling advice is also welcome. Help me be the best long-distance auntie ever!
posted by embrangled to Human Relations (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe ring some books as gifts, read them to him and leave them with him. You can read the same stories to him over Skype later.
posted by dottiechang at 5:04 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bring some great/classic kids books (e.g., Suess, Sendak) to read with him when you're there and—having established your "role" as storyteller/reader—continue this routine when you Skype. Also, playing with hand puppets could be continued via Skype.
posted by she's not there at 5:05 PM on December 20, 2012

If you play with him, like get down on the floor and play with blocks or cars or whatever, he will love you. My little cousin is three and loves what we all call "the car crash game." (I know, I know, but he loves it.) You VERY NOISILY drive and crash Matchbox cars into each other, complete with, "OH NOOOOOOOOOO" and exaggerated crashing noises. He laaaaaaaughs. And seriously can play it for hours. HOURS. Read to him, sing with him, volunteer to do bath time and make bubbles and let him splash all over you and you will be a huge hit!
posted by Aquifer at 5:05 PM on December 20, 2012 [10 favorites]

Buy two of the same small toy animal/person. Give him one. The toys can Skype each other after you leave (one could be the Aunty toy).

Make up a song for the toys.... just sillify a song like Old MacDonald...and sing it when you Skype, holding the toy. But it's what you do now to inculcate that toy that will be your bond later.

Afterwards you can take photos of the toy with you in different parts of the world. And Skype more often than monthly. Make it much, much shorter and more often. And sing to him, don't ask questions so much.

You can also do this with two books.
One for each end of Skype.

You're going to rock as an Aunty, I can feel it in my bones
posted by taff at 5:19 PM on December 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Great activities-
-blow up a few balloons and try to keep them up in the air
-put shaving cream all over a table and then squish it and make designs in it
(his parents will hate you if you don't also assume to clean it up of course)
-Play dance/freeze-- play music and tell him to dance, and when the music stops tell him to freeze! Then turn it on again... Giggles!
-make a fort and tent out of sheets and pillows and such
-draw pictures. He'll come up with all kinds of things for you to draw. You can make it into a story book and let him make up the story and you write the words. These can get very silly. (Just staple it together to make it more bookish)
-make an icecream sundae
-get a premade pizza crust and let him put the sauce and cheese on
-make mickey mouse pancakes
-play I spy
-ring around the rosies
-I don't know what the weather will be like where you're going, but going to a pond and feeding ducks or fishies is often fun

Just playing his toys with him is something kids tend to love. That in and of itself should suffice. You might be the one who wants more directive games. We grown ups run out of floor play creativity....
Wrangling advice- don't be afraid to tell him no, right away. Being the cool Auntie doesn't mean you have to let him turn into a little dictator! If he gets excited and starts jumping on you and it hurts you can just say "Ouchie! That's a little too rough!" Also at three redirection still works pretty good-- redirecting attention from a not so ideal behavior to a positive behavior is useful. "I like it when you're gentle!" Or just switching activities to shift the mood. If his parents are there though you should have a fine time. Just default to mom and dad if crankiness occurs lol. (This is why being an Auntie is especially awesome)
I think you will have a blast! Have fun!
posted by xarnop at 5:38 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, his parents can actively support the relationship after by making sure that they spend time talking about you, and the things that you have done with him, on a regular basis. My nephew is a very similar age, and our fairly infrequent contact has been really enriched by him having a sustained narrative about who I am.
posted by howfar at 6:12 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take tons of photos and create a fun colourful scrapbook of your adventures together, then mail it to him. Kids form and keep a lot of memories from stories and images, and most of the one's I know love flipping through photos of themselves. If his parents pull it out and tell him stories from it, he'll remember them and you.
posted by Dynex at 7:18 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a nephew that I see roughly twice a year, but he always has known who I am and seems excited to see me. I chalk it up to two main reasons:

- His parents make a point of talking about me, so that he hears little stories that become part of his daily life. When I am coming to town, they tell him so weeks in advance and explain how I am flying in a plane etc. Kids love that kind of thing, its something to be excited about. Also, they have a photo of me multiple places in their house, on the fridge, one in the living room etc.

- I don't think of any special, new, exciting activities for us to do, but I do engage him on his own turf doing the things HE likes to do. In this case, its blocks, smashing action figures together, trains, reading books, that kind of thing. I think it does more for your cause to place yourself in a familiar frame of reference for him, rather than have their memory of you be wrapped up in a completely novel experience; it could be confusing.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 7:23 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a really cool magic trick in which you tell your nephew the color of a cube face he selected when the cube is sealed in a box! Just something to do out of the blue in between the other activities you choose.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 7:31 PM on December 20, 2012

hide and seek. play silly- say "oh, I wonder where Johhny is? I can't see him anywhere? (when clearly he is in the place that you last hid)." :)
posted by titanium_geek at 8:41 PM on December 20, 2012

Find something to do that is messy, wet, loud and goofy. Like making cookies in funny shapes. If he is up for it, change his day. Backwards day. Dinner and milkshake for breakfast, breakfast for lunch and lunch for dinner. Wear goofy hats. Make paper newspaper hats to wear around. Get down to his level. While I wouldn't countermand his parents, be the Auntie that lets him get away with little things like not finishing his peas, leaving his toys out (you clean up when he goes down) type of things. He will remember you. Also, bring him pictures of the family he has never seen, leave him some pictures of you and take some of you and him to send to him.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:49 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Read to him. And read. And read some more. That and snacks and naps. And parks if you can go to those.

Awesome to a three year old means an adult who gets them on their level. Storytime and walking around, going to the zoo, fingerpainting at the kitchen table. Helping make snacks. Having a good nap spot and a blanket.
posted by zippy at 8:51 PM on December 20, 2012

If you can stand it, get him a child-size set of maracas/drum/keyboard/a recorder, and let him make as much noise as you and your neighbours can bear.

For bathtime, those soap crayons you can draw onyourself with are a huge hit.

See if he wants to make up his own stories based on the pictures in books.

Let him boss you about a bit and be in charge. My niece loves it when she doesn't have to follow rules and gets to make them up for other people!

And if you have the time, get him one of those plastic steps so he can see over sinks/counters/tables. Kids get really ambitious and want to mimic adults, but get frustrated when they can't see or reach.

ETA: take lots of photos of you two. Stick them on your fridge/walls.
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 11:11 PM on December 20, 2012

In my experience with my two three-year old nephews (the three of us adore one another), it really has to do with just fully committing to whatever they want to do. Play with cars for three hours? Endless hide and seek? Drawing? Whatever -- the thing that really gets them is when you just get on the floor and play with them and give them your complete attention. No phone, no "in a sec, I'm talking to your mom," no "hang on just a minute." Just your complete, unadulterated attention and your devotion to really having fun with whatever they're doing. 3 is old enough to tell that the grown-ups in your life are actually interested in hanging out with you and are really listening to the stuff you're telling them.

I would also arrive with presents. Loud ones.

Have fun. Being an auntie is THE BEST.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 12:06 AM on December 21, 2012

My key to a fun auntie-niece relationship: a game we invented called High Tower. We would take wooden blocks and build the tower as high as we could. Then, as it started to sway from side to side, I would shout "Timberrrrr!!!!" and she would knock the tower of blocks over. Simple, fun, and a little bit dangerous.

Seriously, she wanted to play this game with me until she was about ten. Whenever I'd come over she'd be like "Auntie Elly! Wanna play High Tower????"

This year her little brother will be three, so I'm going to encourage her (she's twelve) to play High Tower with him. Of course, I'm going to play too. I love High Tower. It's the best game.
posted by Elly Vortex at 6:27 AM on December 21, 2012

Three is such a great age! I lived a few hours away from my niece and nephew when they were three and it was torture to not see them every day.

They were silly and laughed at anything at that age, so I taught them some jokes. It was great because kids that age seem to love repetition, so I went through a list of 3 or 4 jokes and we repeated them until they remembered. Here they are in case you need them:

- Where do cows go on a date? To the MOOOOOO-vies
- How do you make a tissue dance? Put a little boogie in it
- What do you call cheese that doesn't belong to you? Nacho cheese
- What do you call a boomerang that doesn't work? A stick

At first they just laughed, then they were able to remember the punchlines, then they were making up their own jokes.

We also play games like naming opposites, or the names for the baby versions of different animals. That's great for any time you spend in the car.

I sometimes buy them bags of M&Ms or Skittles, and then draw colored circles on a piece of paper matching the colors in the bag. We sort the candy, matching the colors to the circles, then I let them pick a color to eat.

They love helping me cook, and they love when I hold their hands and spin them around in circles, lifting them off the ground.

We build batcaves together out of Legos while singing our favorite songs, and we make pillow forts out of the couch cushions.

Basically, just let your nephew do whatever he wants and you'll have an awesome time. Being an aunt is the best!
posted by elvissa at 8:13 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone, these are all fantastic tips. Rest assured I will be arriving with toys and books, books, SO MANY BOOKS! But yeah, mostly I'm just looking forward to spending lots of time with the little guy, racing trucks and staging tickle attacks and reading awesome bedtime stories. Thanks, aunties and uncles of Mefi!
posted by embrangled at 3:40 PM on December 21, 2012

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