It’s no surprise that having a positive female role model is extremely important for young girls. This is especially true in the current world of social media, bullying and the ever-changing, progressing “norms” for women.
The impact that a supportive, playful and nurturing woman can have on a young girl is astounding. An aunt is the perfect blend of mother and friend — she is part of a young girl’s roots — but allows her to flourish and discover new things comfortably.
This is exactly why aunts play such a significant role in the lives of young girls, even into their adulthood. And in case you’re wondering … aunts don’t have to be biological relatives, either. Any nurturing adult woman serves as an impactful aunt for young girls.
An aunt serves as a trusted female mentor a young girl can turn to when her parents are physically or emotionally unavailable. Melanie Notkin, founder of Savvy Auntie and bestselling author of SAVVY AUNTIE: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids, explains that aunts offer a nonjudgemental ear for young girls. This helps them to sort through challenges, knowing that they aren’t alone.
The aunt-niece bond is so special because although an aunt is an older, mother figure, she isn’t the mother. The relationship between an aunt and niece is unique and it’s one that a mother cannot replicate.
When a child or young adult spends time away from her parents, a girl can feel more liberated and more willing to express herself differently than she does at home, says Notkin — adding, “simply through her aunt’s positive influence, world view and way of life, a girl can not only learn more about the world around her, but about herself.”
Aunts get the best of both worlds, in a sense. They get to swoop in for some fun, support, emotional growth and then say goodbye until next time. They aren’t responsible for the day-to-day tasks, but they can have a huge impact on the wellbeing of a young girl, even as she grows into adulthood.
While the mother-daughter relationship tends to have some ups and downs throughout the years, the aunt-niece relationship is often steady. An aunt is part of the family, but one step removed. She doesn’t have to fret over homework being completed, the bedroom being cleaned and finishing the broccoli on the dinner plate. Aunts provide stability and an escape from the day-to-day.
Research refers to the aunt-niece relationship as “quasi-parenthood,” in that an aunt isn’t the mother, but she does play a role in raising and shaping the life of her niece. Aunts serve as a safety net, a comforter, protector and supporter. They’re not always around, but they’re never too far when you need them.
When researchers interviewed 30 childless women over the age of 60, they found that aunts hoped to have influenced the lives of their nieces in positive and enduring ways. Many of them likened their relationships with nieces to that of a parent-child tie.
Why are aunts so important to nieces? Aunts offer young girls a safe space to:
One way that an aunt helps her niece discover new things is through play. Playing helps a child build her imaginary world, discover new things and build trust. “Researchers have found that responsive, nurturing caregivers can predict healthy intellectual and emotional development,” Notkin explains.
Aunts are also important because of their ability to provide a nurturing environment. Nurturing is a key factor in bonding and healthy attachment, according to Notkin.
Research published in The American Psychologist suggests that nurturing environments do the following:
When kids have nurturing relationships with their aunts from a young age, they become better problem solvers, are more empathetic and enjoy higher self esteem. A secure baby, young girl and adolescent can thrive because of this sense of support.
Creating a bond when your niece is just a baby is the best way to form a long-lasting and impactful relationship.
Instead of buying your new tiny niece or nephew baby clothes and toys, make it about the time you spend together and the experiences. Walks in the park, on the swings, reading books, hide and seek — there are so many ways to connect with a niece and solidify your unique connection.
The special thing about aunts is that although they don’t have to be involved in the lives of their nieces and nephews, they choose to be involved.
Simple acts like showing up to a soccer game, taking her out to lunch and spending time with her on the weekends shows that you’re dedicated and reliable. There may not be an obligation to the child, but aunts are there anyway — strictly out of love.
Your aunt-niece relationship goals should be communicated to your sibling or friend so that he/she knows you are a reliable source for the child.
Notkin explains that play is key in a child’s emotional, social and cognitive development. When an aunt comes to visit, it’s all about play and spending what she calls “QualAuntie Time” together.
What’s so special about playing with your niece or nephew? This is what they love to do most and it’s how they learn about the world. Play gives young children the opportunity to discover new things.
“When we are enjoying open-ended play with our little nieces, like having tea parties, role-playing favorite TV or movie characters, building a castle out of blocks or playing dress up, this is how girls develop a sense of mastery and independence,” explains Notkin.
The supportive, nurturing role of an aunt is so important. To be a great aunt, make it known that you will always be a shoulder to lean on. You’ll be there in times of celebration and joy, and in hard times when your niece or nephew really needs extra support.
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