For the first three years of her life, an ocean separated Greta Skagerlind from her extended family. Greta lived with her parents in Sydney, Australia; her maternal relatives lived in the United States, her paternal relatives in England.
Greta's mom and dad worked diligently to keep her connected with her relatives. But it wasn't until Greta was 3 and the family moved to South Orange, New Jersey -- minutes away from an aunt, an uncle, and two cousins -- that her bond with the extended family fully blossomed. "I think the combination of the move and her age made her more aware of family relationships and how we all fit together," says Kathryn Huang, Greta's mom.
That's not surprising, says Judith Myers-Walls, Ph.D., a professor of child development and family studies at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana. "When a child is 2, 'Grandma' is a name and not a concept. Starting at 3, children can put names with ideas, such as 'Grandma is Mommy's mommy.'"
Strong relationships with extended-family members give preschoolers a sense of connectedness and a greater understanding of their roots. Forging these bonds can be especially exciting for 3- and 4-year-olds. "This is a time when children really begin to recognize the importance of others in their lives," says Jacqueline Kirby, Ph.D., an assistant professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University, in Columbus.
Here are some ideas that can help your preschooler feel close to her relatives -- not just around the holidays but all year long.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the December 2000 issue of Parents magazine.