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10 Fun, Easy Ways to Be the Cool Aunt

Being a cool aunt goes beyond just buying the most coveted toys. Read on for advice from aunts who really do it right.

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Go where their parents won’t

While a movie or a shopping day is always fun, cool aunts are often the ones who empower themselves to take their nieces or nephews somewhere really special. “My niece is dying to go to Lollapallooza with me,” says Vera Springett of Chicago. “Now her parents just need to give in and fly her over from California one day!”

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Create rituals

My six-year old niece and I go to dim sum together whenever we can. We both think of dumplings as our favorite foods and her parents are just not fans, so it’s the perfect shared bonding time.

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Be the one they can confide in

Since you’re not the one who doles out punishment—their parents can handle that, thank you very much!—you get to be their confidant without fear. “I think it’s about being there for your niece and nephews as a different kind of resource,” explains Randi Marshall of New York City. “It means being really close to them to the point that they can come to you with anything.”

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Be the foil to their parents

“For me,” says Heidi Sarna of Singapore, “[being the cool aunt] is about being the goofy boundary pusher that’s the total opposite of mom.” But that advice is true whatever the child’s parents are like—my own sister is the goofy boundary pusher in our family, so sometimes my niece comes to me looking for quiet time, and I am always happy to give it to her. (Here’s how to improve your relationship with your adult brother or sister.)

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Rely on video chatting if you’re far away

Video calls—from Google Chat to Skype—allow you to be more in touch with far away nieces and nephews than ever before, and create a closer connection even from a distance. “I FaceTime them when we are not together,” confirms Jenna Bennis of Palm Coast, Florida.

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Splurge on less pragmatic presents

Let the grandparents and parents give them socks and educational toys. When it’s your turn to buy a holiday or birthday gift, go for memorable and playful instead. “Buy stuff their parents would deem impractical,” suggests Amy Elliott of Brooklyn, New York. “It doesn’t have to be wildly pricey, but just indulgent by design—like a sequined shirt or a ridiculous pink fur vest.” Uncles like to play that game, too. “Take out a super blinged-out fidget spinner very casually from your bag and let it spin, ‘oh, this old thing?'” laughs Teddy Boyke of Los Angeles.

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Make mealtimes out of the ordinary

Let their parents focus on eating enough vegetables or getting enough calcium—aunts and uncles get to be the ones who let them have dessert first, or breakfast for dinner. My niece and I go to a burger place with ridiculous, candy-topped milkshakes, and we’re looking forward to trying a shop in Manhattan that scoops out cookie dough as though it were ice cream.

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Get down on the ground and play with them

Whether you’re used to spending time with kids or not, being a cool aunt or uncle requires you to meet them where they’re at—whether that means making sand castles with moats, building houses out of Legos, or pretending to be different types of animals. After all, how else will you get to have long conversations about super heroes or princesses? (For a little inspiration, check out these mind-blowing LEGO sculptures.)

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Ask them about their lives

I always start off our brunches or afternoon teas by asking my niece what she learned in school that week, or what’s new with her friends. It keeps me in the loop on her life, and the answers always surprise me. She’s still young, but I suspect, as she gets older, it will be even more important.

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Tell them what’s going on with you

Yes, even when they’re little. Building a relationship means letting them know a little about your life—whether that means talking about your hobbies or your work. I like to tell my niece about my weightlifting classes so she knows that feeling strong is something I get excited about. I like to think that helps her think of fitness as something that provides a healthy body image, too — and that’s something she’ll need as she gets older. Whether you help them with etiquette or self-esteem, sharing stories about your life can impact theirs in positive ways.

Sherri Eisenberg
Sherri Eisenberg is an award-winning glossy print veteran for top travel, bridal. food, and lifestyle magazines who is equally deft with digital, social, mobile, and branded content. She has written for Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, and Bon Appétit, and has served as cruise editor for Travel and Leisure and Travel Holiday as well as Cruiseline.com and ShermansCruise.com. She has also been a columnist for The Los Angeles Times and, as senior travel editor of Condé Nast's Brides, she won the Lowell Thomas Gold Award for best travel coverage in a non-travel magazine. Sherri is the author of "The Food Lovers Guide to Brooklyn," which was published by Globe Pequot Press in 2010 and covered by everyone from The New York Times to Time magazine. She keeps a bag packed at all times and has no plants or pets so she can hop on a plane — or a ship — at a moment's notice.