Does your child struggle a bit through hellos and goodbyes? Does he shy away at the idea of having to give a hug or kiss to a relative or friend? The pressure for your kids to "perform" properly and graciously through these formalities can run high. Here are some ideas to make these social interactions go a bit more smoothly for your child.
1. Don't force your child to show physical affection for anyone else. If she doesn't want to hug or kiss, try to respect that. Simply ask her, "How would YOU like to say hello to Grandpa?" and then use whatever gesture or noise she makes to indicate a hello. "You're stomping your foot? OK Grandpa... stomping feet must mean hello!" (And then encourage Grandpa to stomp his foot back!) This will infuse some levity -- and most likely some laughter -- into the situation, which will ease your child's feelings and help her connect with the family member.
2. Let the child warm up on her own pace. You can tell her, "Grammie would like to say hello to you, but it looks like you may need a few minutes. I will sit with you until you are ready." Stay close with your child while she observes the situation and eases into being there. Then, ask her, "Are you ready to say hello?" and help her through the interaction with her relative. By allowing your child to determine when she is ready, she will feel more in control and more comfortable being there. She will also feel respected, which is extremely important to her social and emotional growth.
3. Play the "telephone" game. Ask your child to whisper his greeting or goodbye into your ear and then relay his message to the relative. "It's time to go! Would you like to whisper your goodbye to Grandpa into my ear?" and then pass the message along. You can also do this with something like a high five or blowing a kiss or giving a hug "from" your child. Another idea along these lines is that you can pretend to hand your child a fake phone and tell her "It's Grandpa on the phone! Would you like to say something to him?"
4. Set up an activity between child and relative. If your child is not warming to the adult in the family, deliberately set up something for them to do together so that they can create a connection during the family event. For example, have Grammie sit down with Play-Doh or another fun and easy project and start working on it by herself. You can gently point out to your child what she is doing and let your child know that you will be playing with Grammie too. Chances that your child will join are pretty high since she loves ANY opportunity to play with you and have your attention. Once she has joined the activity, Grammie begins to engage the child too and before you know it, your child will begin to connect with her grandmother and feel more comfortable. This will translate into a willingness to be more affectionate and responsive throughout the rest of the night. It's the connection with the person that counts!
5. Some kids genuinely don't like saying goodbye because they are sad to leave. After spending time with family and enjoying all the fun and extra attention that it brings, it's only natural that children don't want the fun to end. Rather than saying goodbye, you can tell your child "You don't have to say goodbye... you can say 'See You Later Alligator'" or have her come up with her own special phrase or code word that "means" goodbye. Again, this makes the interaction a bit more fun rather than full of pressure and will allow your child to loosen up a bit. It's also important to acknowledge any sad feelings that the child may be expressing about saying goodbye: "We've had such a fun night and you don't want to leave! You feel sad to say goodbye!" You can tell her you feel the same way, let her know you will return soon, that you are there to help her through her feelings... Being empathetic and validating through the experience will help your child to move forward.
Even when you are doing everything to support and encourage your child, you still may have to contend with pushy relatives! Try to stay calm and focused on your child. Most grown-ups are willing to take your lead if you set the tone, so if you say something like "Grammie, whatever you do... don't look at Josh!" and then encourage Grammie to play peek-a-boo with Josh while you say "Uh-oh! She's looking at you! Quick! Let's hide you behind me..." Hopefully, Grammie is willing and able to play along, knowing that you are helping her to connect with her grandchild, rather than resisting her.
You can send strong messages to your relatives by talking for your child: "Auntie, Jack just needs a few minutes before he's ready to say hello, so we will sit over here... but stay close by because we are excited to see you!" Whatever you do, try not to get frustrated or feel insulted by your friends and family. Your job is to help your child through the interaction and build his sense of confidence and connection. Once everyone sees how well your child does after being supported by you, they will understand why you needed time and space to help ease your child into the new situation.
The main goal through all these ideas is to take the pressure off. The minute the child feels forced into having to do something, the more willful and determined he will become NOT to do it. Help your child feel in control by following his lead, while gently supporting him with these light-hearted strategies and ideas. Remember your kids are still young and learning how to navigate these social nuances. The more you can coach him through these situations in a positive, helpful & encouraging way, the quicker he will catch on and learn how to do it himself.