Filipino families have always been tight-knit group, and many of us grew seeing extended members of our family regularly. Those who grew up with cousins understand why it's an experience that benefits our kids today.
"Cousins are very important particularly as families become more spread out. They become additional resources outside of our family of origin," Dr. Kristina S. Brown, chair of the Couple and Family Therapy Department at Alder University, told Fatherly.
It's true. Cousins are like siblings for those who are an only child, and they're automatic playmates, too. Spending time with cousins regularly -- what Brown calls "shared experiences" during family vacations or reunions -- forms a unique relationship and a versatile one at that. As they grow up, they become confidants or protectors without the emotional minefield a child can sometimes get from his parents.
Like best friends, younger cousins pick up right where they left off even after months-long hiatus (social media certainly help bridge gap when they become teens). Plus, relationships with extended family members like a cousin offer the opportunity for kids to learn how to be selfless or generous, as a 2013 study suggests. They can become particularly essential during times of crisis (i.e., death in the family) and can take over family traditions (i.e., setting up reunions and parties).
Meredith Ethington summed it up nicely in her piece for Inspire More: "Cousins are like having all the benefits of a sibling, without actually having to live with them."
The key is giving your child a lot of opportunities to form the unique bond. Here are some tips that can help:
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1. Don't just stick to family gatherings. Arrange playdates. You don't have to always wait for the annual reunion or for a wedding or a wake to get the kids together. Going out on "family dates" may even be more manageable than attending a full-blown reunion.
2. Ease the kids into being friends. Like forming friendships, you can't force it, but you can encourage them. Look for something they have in common. Let them play outdoor or board games that require physical interaction (and not just staring on to screens).
3. Model healthy relationships with cousins. Kids follow their parents' example more than what their parents say. Make it a point to introduce them to relatives you consider good friends.
Almost everyone has memorable moments with cousins. You need to let your kids have that, too. And during this time wherein families and friends are relying on social media to keep in touch, make an effort to give them chances to build that bond the old-fashioned way.