Be Prepared for Cousin Chaos

be prepared for cousin chaos

Holidays are times for large family gatherings. Often times family get-togethers have mild to horrible cases of cousin chaos. Cousins, who may see each other infrequently, vie for adults’ attention along with trying to figure out who’s who in the pecking order of the family. Little wonder that craziness can ensue.

More than once, my jaw has dropped as I witnessed children’s antics that they would never, ever, do at home.

Cousin competition can lead to pranks and quarrels that can spoil everyone’s fun, or worse, lead to long-term hurts.

My mother has interesting and funny stories of her cousins’ antics at her grandparents’ farm. Her accounts of rat pranks, barn lofts and cornfields, coupled with a few personal incidents, caused me to seek a better way to manage family gatherings so that family harmony, along with my sanity, could be maintained.

Plan ahead.

Realize that cousins, as soon as they can crawl, will be trying to figure out where they fit in the family hierarchy. Tests of skill to mean-spirited pranks (such as jumping off roofs or locking people in closets) can abound as adult family members are busy carving the turkey or slicing the pumpkin pie.

Plan activities, from preparation, serving and clean up, that will involve all family members. Children as young as three can help set tables and clean up. Encourage older children and teenagers to be responsible for running games and preparing snacks and drinks. Having a job helps you feel you belong and engenders cooperation instead of competition.

Have rules.

Make it clear to children and adults what behavior is expected by having clearly stated rules. A quick meeting or note before the gathering can get things started on the right foot. A session might go like this. “I want everyone to have a safe and fun time. We need to have a few rules about how to do that. What rules do you think we should have to be safe and still have fun?”

Let each person state something fun for them and how to do it safely. You might want to have someone write this all down as you go. With 15 to 20 people this should only take about 10 minutes if you facilitate and keep things moving.

If an important rule is not mentioned, such as “no swimming alone,” bring it up. A 10-minute meeting will make it clear to everyone that safety and fun are number one and how the group plans to make it happen. Also, no one can slip one by Aunt Betsy, saying, “Well, my dad said I could.”

Say “thank you.”

Say “thank you” to everyone who is at the family gathering for coming and sharing. A handwritten note with photos is always appreciated. Thank you’s are contagious and help us feel like we belong.

Get a head start on cousin chaos. Plan ahead and get everyone involved in some aspect of the gathering. Have clear rules of behavior that are established by the group in a quick, fun meeting. Be sure to let latecomers know what’s been decided. Foster an attitude of gratitude by saying thank you to everyone at the gathering. A few well-directed plans can help you avoid family fatigue and have an enjoyable celebration.

Plan to have a wonderful Holiday Season!

Building Cathedrals Not Walls

2 Responses to “Be Prepared for Cousin Chaos”

  1. Louisa,

    I think that children can be part of putting together a meal and celebration. Activities from cutting vegetables, making salads, making cookies, setting the table or making flower arrangement have been well-received over the years in our family. Making tree ornaments is also a fun activity.

    One well-loved activity is making Monkey Bread.

    Community Playthings has instructions on making a Circle Star ornament.

    Also, a thank you walk is also fun.

    I hope that gives you a few ideas.


Leave a Reply