The holidays are coming, and parents of young kids can have a bit of a knot in their stomachs at the thought of all those friends and relatives they don't see very often descending upon their kids.

And if that causes you anxiety, imagine how it feels for your kids to all of a sudden be surrounded by throngs of people they barely know who wants hugs, smiles and sparkling conversation.

It can be embarrassing for us as parents when our well-meaning great aunts, old friends and long-lost cousins ask our kids something as innocuous as their ages and receive sullen looks or tears in response.

Here are some tips for helping our kids and ourselves to get through the holidays with as little embarrassment as possible!

1. A little prep work goes a long way 

In the car on the way to a family event, I always tell the kids who's going to be there and what kinds of questions to expect. I give reminders to smile, speak in a voice that can be heard, and we even practice a few conversation ideas.

2. Respect boundaries 

Some kids have more introverted personalities, and that really is okay. They don't have to be outgoing conversationalists, and they should never be forced to hug, kiss or do anything physical. However, there's a difference between shy and rude. You can support your child's right to disappoint Great-aunt Millie by not giving her a kiss on the cheek, but your relative does deserve the respect of audible answers to a few questions, eye contact and a smile.

3. Have your kids' backs 

Sometimes it really is difficult for kids to figure out what they should be saying in a conversation with someone they don't know well. These are skills they have to learn, so do let them practice by not answering all questions for them. But, if they seem especially tongue-tied, it's not a bad idea to lead the conversation a little bit in a direction that you know your kids will be happy to take part in.

With a little bit of practice, your kids might actually look forward to seeing all those long-lost relatives every year!

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