Create Strong Connections with Grandparents
One of the best gifts you can give your children’s grandparents for Grandparents Day is to encourage a close relationship with your kids. By spending time together and getting to know each other, your children and their grandparents will create a stronger relationship. This relationship can help children develop a connection to your family history. And kids also will benefit from having an adult to talk to who loves them, but is not entrenched in the day-to-day tasks of parenting.
“With their grandparents, our kids have family other than us that they can feel safe [with]. The kids know that they have family who will spoil them and make them feel special all of the time. And someone to complain to about Mommy and Daddy,” says Raleigh father Keith Wasserman. He and his wife, Alice Osborne, work with his mom, Bonnie Ross, who lives in New York, to make sure that she has a close relationship with their two children despite the distance.
Here are five ways you can encourage your children to connect with their grandparents regardless of how far or close they live to you:
Arrange a date
Although babysitting grandchildren is a way to spend time together, it is also important for children to spend time with their grandparents on other occasions. For grandparents who live nearby, set up a regular time each week or month for your kids to spend time with them. The date can be for a few hours after school or for a sleepover on the weekend. By setting a regular schedule, such as the first Saturday of the month or every other Wednesday, this special time together is less likely to get overlooked.
Bonnie Ross invites her grandkids to stay with her and her husband for a week and calls it “Camp Grandma.” During the visit, she spends time with them and makes the week all about the grandchild. She also comes to visit at least every two months and calls twice a week.
For grandparents who live in another city, you can also set up a phone date at the same time each week. Sharon Schwinger, Raleigh mom of three, uses Skype (www.skype.com) for free calls over the Internet when her children talk to their grandparents in New Jersey.
While technology is a wonderful tool to keep in touch, writing letters to each other is a very personal way to communicate. While many people regularly send e-mail, handwritten letters are special and more likely to be saved for years to come.
Have your child and his or her grandparents pick out a journal together and take turns writing their thoughts. Encourage them to write stories about their lives, share memories of each other and ask each other questions. For long-distance grandparents, take turns writing in the journal and mail the book to each other. If mailing a book is an obstacle, have your child and his grandparents send letters to each other and store them in a special box.
Share a book
Books connect generations. For younger children, encourage a grandparent to choose a favorite picture book to read to a grandchild. Grandparents who live in another town can make a digital video recording of them reading a book. They can either send the file to you or put the video on a video sharing website such as YouTube. If they are unfamiliar with the technology, you can set up the tools for them on your next visit. While your child is watching the video, have her follow along with her own copy of the same book.
If your child is reading chapter books, have her ask grandparents to read the same book. Encourage them to talk about the story after they both finish. Have the grandparent pick out the next book to read together.
Use technology to communicate
If you have teenagers, think about how they like to communicate with their friends. Encourage teens to text or instant message with their grandparents and, if necessary, teach Grandpa how to send a text or set up a chat. Julie Shiley’s teenager, Allie, uses Facebook to keep in touch with her grandparents. By using your child’s favorite technology, she will be more likely to share things in a spontaneous way and enjoy talking with her grandparents.
For long-distance grandparents, consider setting up a webcam so your child can have a video conference with grandparents. Both you and your child’s grandparent will need a basic webcam, which can be purchased for $30 to $40 from a local electronics store. Ross says that one of the best gifts she received from her children was a webcam. “I feel that we have stayed connected this way, and I am no more than a phone call and picture away,” she says.
Start a hobby or project together
Another way for grandparents and grandchildren to connect is to share a hobby or activity. Encourage a grandparent to take an interest in your child’s hobbies and suggest the child teach the grandparent about things that interest her. Grandparents can introduce their hobbies, such as fishing or sewing, to your child. In addition to it being a fun way to spend time together, this passes family traditions and memories to the next generation.
Another idea is for the pair to complete a project together, such as starting a garden or a building a birdhouse. For grandparents living far away, pick a project that can be completed during a visit.
“I want my grandkids to have a sense of growing up with family,” Ross says. “I was not fortunate to have my grandparents for long. We are the ones that now have the time and patience to give the children our undivided attention.”
Jennifer Gregory lives in the Triangle with her husband, two kids and three dogs. Her children look forward to their weekly date with their grandmother.
Activities by Age
Try these age-appropriate ways to help your children connect with their grandparents:
Toddlers and preschoolers
– Make a small photo album with pictures of grandparents for children to enjoy.
– Have young children talk on the phone for short conversations.
– Set up an e-mail account for your child and help him e-mail his grandparents. Allow communication to be between them and resist the urge to correct spelling.
– Arrange for your child to spend a weekend or week with grandparents.
Tweens and teens
– Encourage your child and his or her grandparents to take a trip together to a place of interest for all of them.
– Encourage your child’s grandparents to use technology such as texting, instant messaging or Facebook that your child uses regularly.