Modern grandparents in this day and age are much more than the candy-dispensing, babysitting grandparent stereotypes of earlier generations.
Today’s grandparents are often key figures in helping to raise their grandchildren and even if not physically near them, with smartphones, tablets, and computers that allow them to see and hear their grandchildren, they have much more frequent face-to-face contact.
It isn’t too difficult to figure out that grandparents and grandchildren are good for each other! Scientific studies note both health benefits for grandparents and developmental benefits for grandchildren according to a recent article in Successful Black Parenting Magazine.
As exhausting as spending time with small children can be, it can also boost cognitive performance of older people. Being around grandchildren helps grandparents boost their immune system, staying healthier. And grandchildren lower the risk of depression when most grandparents feel happier spending time with their grandchildren.
Studies for grandchildren report similar results: Grandchildren learn about family identity and traditions from their grandparents and that helps them connect with their past. Both sides help the other learn. Grandchildren, for example, keep their grandparents up-to-date with popular culture and technology. More on the tech side below!
Here are several tips on staying connected with your grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or simply younger friends you don’t see often.
Consistent contact is critical so that your grandchildren recognize you and get to know you, your face and your voice. As much as technology helps, and I mention a number of ways below, don’t forget the “old-fashioned” ways as well—letters, postcards, birthday cards, get-well cards, thank you notes, sending photos, and much more. Remember that these hand-written notes and cards will be the ones your grandchildren (and perhaps their parents) will remember more than anything else.
But, technology is amazing and keeps you in touch in ways that can’t be beat.
Tip #1: Talk regularly. Don’t make a phone call or a video conference call a big deal that has to be planned for every week. It is much better to be able to pick up the phone or turn on FaceTime or Skype for a short, impromptu hello and short conversation several times each week. More spontaneous than planned.
I favor video conference calls especially for younger kids so they can begin to recognize your face and your voice. Read younger kids a story or have them tell you what they did that day, share some of their schoolwork, or demonstrate a new song or dance. Conversations don’t have to be long, but consistency and familiarity is key! Make it a regular part of your…and their day.
With older kids you can share books or movies or TV shows as a way to start a discussion. Or, ask them to describe a funny story about their day or something that surprised them at school.
Tip #2: Do your homework. Read up about your grandkids’ school, church, community groups, or town. When you know what they are involved in it is very easy to find information about their activities online. And you don’t need to depend on their parents to fill you in.
Start with school. Perhaps their teacher has her own website that can give you all sorts of information about the curriculum, field trips, or class projects of the very class your grandchild is in. Most schools have websites as well and you will often find electronic newsletters or other announcements about school activities.
Another source of information are YouTube videos. Parents or teachers often post videos of music or drama performances and athletic contests from your grandchild’s school, so take a look at YouTube frequently. You don’t even need a specific link, simply type in the name of your school in YouTube’s search box and see what pops up. When I did that with my local middle school I found a number of videos including this one of the middle school show choir. Fun!
Tip #3: For older kids, share some really compelling piece of content. This may lead to “deeper” discussions and stop that conversation-ending answer “nothing” when you ask, “What is happening at school?” You can do this offline by sending an article or a book but doing it online is much easier. Share an article or a book or a video that you have read/seen that your grandchild might be interested in.
I’m projecting into the future a bit but in several years when my grandchildren are old enough (at age 5 or 6) I am going to start sharing information about skiing, interesting places we have traveled, and stories about interesting people. These are the things that we’ll also do face-to-face so it makes sense to continue that shared interest online.
Tip #4: Model how to be a content creator. Don’t make these online connections a one-way street where grandma or grandpa calls and asks the same 20 questions. Don’t make your grandchild do all the work. Share your own creativity, whether you are a musician, dancer, blogger, painter, sculptor, knitter, runner, or whatever! Let them know what you do for fun? How you spend your time? And how you give back. If appropriate, share this information online.
This is a great way for your grandchild to learn more about you, but also to see the internet as a place to be creative.
Tip #5: How about a virtual field trip? Kids love to play “pretend” and almost everyone loves to travel. Why not combine those two things to take a virtual field trip? With a little research on your part, find an interesting location and turn it into a place that you two can “visit”. And this doesn’t have to be an exotic locale, it can be a place in your hometown or better yet, your grandchild’s hometown that she knows little about. A museum, art gallery, historic site. The sky is the limit.
Anyone can uncover the 10 sites to see in their area, but go for the really interesting…and sometimes quirky. In Maine, how about the world’s only (and thus largest) Umbrella Cover Museum or the Matthews Museum, devoted to the very unusual Maine soft drink.
Pack your bags and have a great time.