Preparing Your Baby for Their First Family Gathering

Navigating family gatherings around the holidays is hard enough without a new baby in tow. Find tips on attending a baby’s first family gathering.

Children in pre-pandemic times looked forward to the holidays: a day when your favorite cousins and grandparents got together for playtime, presents and desserts.

Babies born during the pandemic, however, will be meet grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins for the first time at this year’s holiday gatherings.

These new situations can feel overwhelming for babies born, says Jessica Glowacz, a licensed master social worker and therapist at the Great Lakes Psychology Group’s Troy, Michigan office.

“There are lot of anxieties I’ve been hearing from families,” she explains. “Check in with yourself the week prior to meeting up for any events and talk with your partner about things they’re concerned about — there are a lot of worries post-partum and it can be really overwhelming, but that’s totally okay and normal.”

Assess the situation with safety in mind

“I think parenting right now comes with a whole new set of stressors, and parents deserve our support and validation,” says Sarah Bauer, a developmental pediatrician and medical director for Advocate Health in Chicago.

“Parents know what’s best for their children,” Bauer says. “Saying ‘no’ is not a bad thing.”

Bauer says parents should feel empowered to set limits with their family – especially since children under 5 are not eligible for the vaccine. She says asking who is vaccinated and who is boosted and making decisions based on safety for your baby should come first.

COVID concerns are valid, she says, and on top of that, it’s the season for other serious respiratory viruses.

“This season, health is the priority,” Bauer says. “It’s a unique situation that parents are in, and it’s a really difficult one, but all of this starts with safety.”

Setting the scene before arriving

Most of the work for babies and parents to emerge from a family get-together meltdown-free actually starts before the gathering.

Knowing your baby’s temperament is paramount, says Bauer. Parents can explain to family members before the child’s arrival that she might be slow to warm up or that she gets easily overwhelmed by noises. There are online tests available if you’re wondering what characteristics make up temperament.

By communicating your child’s temperament beforehand, “you’re setting the narrative of how people interact with your child,” Bauer says.

Parents can also help children get used to new relatives beforehand by pulling up family photo albums and walking them through different family members and their relationship to the child, she adds.

Creating a schedule before the family gathering is important, too, says Glowacz.

“If it’s a mom who wants to be home to breastfeed at 6 p.m., you can say to your partner ‘We need to have the car packed at 5:30 p.m., so that I don’t feel overwhelmed,’’ Glowacz adds. “Things won’t always go exactly to plan, but being prepared will help be as relaxed as possible.”

How to keep babies calm during the gathering

Above all, one piece of advice stands out from others: Keep the routine.

“Maintaining a routine is really important — keep when they eat, sleep and nap consistent,” Bauer says.

Parents may have to speak with the hosting family member beforehand to figure out the best places for babies to take naps and breaks. Keeping the bedtime routine consistent in the week beforehand, for both parents and babies, is also important, Bauer adds.

“Don’t feel guilty if you want to keep the routine during the gathering,” Glowacz explains. “Some parents want to wing it, other parents know they want their child to nap from 2-3 p.m. because the nap will make 4-6 p.m. go smoother”

Babies will also need to keep a parent close. “During those visits, especially for up to 18 months of age, keeping a familiar parent within their eyesight is critical,” Bauer says.

And once the gathering is over, try not to replay moments you wish you could change.

“If you do have a partner, try to give each other one compliment,” Glowacz says. “And if you’re a single parent – give yourself credit and remind yourself of all the things that went well.”

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