How to be a supportive adult in a kid's life : Life Kit Parents aren't the only people who help raise kids or invest in their wellbeing. Uncles, aunties and family friends make great role models too.

How to be an amazing auntie or uncle

How to be an amazing auntie or uncle

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Kaz Fantone/NPR
A child happily rides on the shoulders of a close adult. The kid&#039;s parents look on, smiling, behind them.
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There is seemingly endless advice out there to help parents raise healthy, responsible children. But parents aren't the only people who help raise kids or invest in their well-being. Author and entrepreneur Rachel Cargle isn't a parent, but kids are a central part of her life.

"I found myself as this auntie figure, both for my nieces and nephews who are biologically part of my life, but also as my friends and other people in my community are having children of their own," Cargle says. "I found a lot of joy in being part of their lives."

Cargle runs the Instagram account Rich Auntie Supreme, which helped popularize this image of blissful, wealthy, carefree women who can live that way because they don't have children.

Cargle is not the first person to talk about living a child-free life, but she says she found many child-free communities talked about how much they didn't like children or believed people who did have kids made the wrong choice. She wasn't interested in that. As someone who spends time caretaking in a variety of ways, Cargle loves kids.

"Children are such wonderful reminders of the wonder of life," she says. "Having children in your world is a meaningful part of the life experience."

For Cargle, choosing to live child-free was an invitation to have relationships with kids without being a parent. And she's discovered there are plenty of ways to do it. "There are opportunities to be an auntie everywhere."

Aunts, uncles, godparents and even trusted neighbors play a unique role in shaping the littlest members of our society. Here are five tips from superstar aunties, uncles and experts on how to be a supportive adult to the kids in your life.

Figure out your role

The great part about not being a parent to a child, is that you get to choose how much you want to engage and in what ways. Some aunties and uncles want to send cards full of money on birthdays and holidays. Others want to do school pickup every week. Whatever your style, the first step in being a supportive adult in a kid's life is understanding your own interests and being intentional about what you can and can't give.

"A lot of the auntie role is, of course, caretaking," says Cargle. "But it's also teaching and exposing and introducing and showing up."

Do you like getting your nails done or making TikToks? Is the kid in your life a big Seahawks fan or are they really good at math? Think about an activity or subject you enjoy that you can share with the kids in your life. Finding a shared interest is an easy way to create a point of connection that can help you build or strengthen that relationship.

Cargle says these points of connection can be big or small and can happen whether you're near or far. Even regular phone calls and text messages can help you feel present if you can't be physically close.

Come up with a routine for staying in touch

Once you figure out your role, start thinking about how often you want to participate. Are you checking in every day? Once a week? Do you go to all the football games and recitals, or send each other your wordle responses every morning? When it comes to building relationships with kids, consistency is key.

Erlanger Turner is a licensed child and adolescent psychologist and founder of Therapy for Black Kids. He's also an uncle, and he says it's normal for kids to develop attachments and get used to a particular level of interaction, so think about what level of commitment you can maintain. You can even get input from the parent to see what would work for them. And try to stick to a schedule that you can balance with the rest of your life.

Part of being a good auntie is being present and engaged with the whole family. You can talk about all sorts of things with the parents or guardians, including how they think you can be the most supportive. Maybe they'd like you to work on a specific behavior with their child or mentor them on a particular subject.

Talk with them about what support they need as a parent and how you can best show up for them, too. That could be a simple word of encouragement, reminding parents they're doing a good job, or something more involved like regularly babysitting, buying the kids lunch every once in a while or helping them with homework.

Provide non-judgmental support

Turner says relationships with adults who aren't their parents help children's development because a lot of how kids learn is through observation.

Aunties show kids that there are different perspectives, ways to live and ways to be. Being able to introduce kids to that broader view of life is one of the really special things that aunties and uncles do, Turner says.

The main difference between a parent-child relationship and an auntie-child relationship is, as an auntie, you're not the primary caretaker. Unlike being a parent, there's less pressure for you to always be on your best behavior or be the perfect role model. Because aunties and uncles operate in this neutral safe zone, they can listen to kids a little bit differently than their parents.

Kids might be afraid to share certain things with their parents because they're afraid they'll get in trouble or disappoint them, says Turner.

"When they have a relationship with the aunt or uncle sometimes those expectations may not be there. They may be more comfortable sharing certain things."

In this safe zone, aunties can be more free to express themselves than parents, and kids can feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences.

Have a conversation about boundaries with the child and their parents

If a kid sees you as a safe person, they might start sharing their secrets with you. Sometimes these are fun secrets like a surprise they're planning for Mother's Day or small revelations they may have as they get older that they only want to share with you.

But a time may come when you're being asked for advice or they tell you something that is a little bit outside the scope of your relationship. You might even get a sense that they're in harm's way. This is a moment you can prepare for.

Turner says if a child shares something with you that you don't feel comfortable keeping secret, follow this two-step process.

Before you talk to the parents, validate the child and what they've shared with you. Then, explain how you feel and talk about how you want to proceed. It might go something like this:

"Say, 'Hey, I know you told me this, and you wanted me to keep this a secret, but I think that it is something that I need to share with your parents.'"

The child can share directly with their parents if they feel more comfortable with that option. You can also offer to accompany them as moral support when they talk to their parents, says Turner. Kids might be upset at first, but Turner says they usually understand.

"It's really important to communicate to the child that you want to be supportive of them. You want to be there for them and listen to the things they may be going through," Turner says. "In most cases, the kids understand that you're an adult and that adults have to make some tough decisions that maybe they don't agree with."

It's important to keep the lines of communication between you, the parent and the child open. Everyone's on the same team. As important as your relationship with the child is, you're there to help raise them. Being an ally to the parents and working with them, not against them, is key to being a good auntie.

Talk about discipline

Another situation you can prepare for is discipline. Turner says that in most situations, kids are going to test the limits when they're not with their parents, and there may even be some behavior issues they are working on. So, have ongoing conversations with the parents about what they think is appropriate.

You can start by asking questions like: Is it okay for me to set limits with your child, or can I step in when I notice your child misbehaving or breaking some rule or social norm? What should I say? Do you take away privileges, use timeouts, or use other consequences? Do you want me to ask you before I do that?

Not only will these questions help you prepare to act in an authoritative role with the child, but they could also save your relationship with the parent.

"If you don't have that conversation about what the expectations are when they're with you, it could potentially backfire if the parent disagrees with your approach to managing that behavior."

You know the old saying: it takes a village to raise a child. For Cargle, being an auntie means being part of a village where children are loved, raised and celebrated, and adults can participate in that in various ways. A community that works in this way helps the children, and Cargle says the benefits of the relationship go both ways.

"Children often remind us of things that we lost along the way towards adulthood. Children bring a freshness to an experience, and I think that children often remind me of myself in ways that I might have forgotten over time," Cargle says. "I don't want to live a life where children aren't at all a part of it because they do bring such a beautiful wonder and really just some of the fun that we often miss out on as we move through adulthood."


The audio portion of this episode was reported by Mayowa Aina, produced by Clare Marie Schneider and edited by Meghan Keane.

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