The challenges of remote bonding with young children

Let’s face it: Remote bonding with young children is hard. A little over two years ago, I became an aunt of a little niece in Australia (far away from where I live in The Netherlands), and, since then, I have been searching desperately for solutions to help with remote bonding with young children. I couldn’t find a proper solution, so, I made it my personal mission to create the best digital solution possible so beautiful bonds can be built across generations, continents, and cultures.

This blog summarizes findings from interviews with hundreds of families across the world. I’ve spoken to grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, children, and other loved ones, and here are some quotes, because I believe that pain shared is pain lessened.

Pain shared is pain lessened

So for anyone who reads this blog: from long-distance grandparents to divorced parents, uncles, or aunts who live/work internationally as expats and have to spend time away from a child they love very dearly, I want you to understand that: You are not alone.  Many share your pain of missing young children in their families. 

Some of the pains experienced by family members trying to connect with young children at a distance include:

 

“I feel it’s very difficult to establish an actual real contact”

It’s already hard to keep in touch with grown-ups – let alone with young children, who have a limited attention span and to whom you might be a “vague concept” from a distance. Young kids cannot hold their attention for a longer period of time and family video calls often end up being a conversation between adults with everyone involved being frustrated. One mother mentioned: “The conversation is literally happening above my daughter’s head”. Young children might become frustrated because they want attention.

 

I don’t know how to engage my child behind a screen”

It’s also difficult to engage with children if you don’t see them often because you just don’t know what they like. The truth is: As grown-ups, we often forget how to be playful and especially don’t know how to be playful when you’re not together. WhatsApp/Zoom calls often end up being a conversation because us grown-ups are only used to having serious conference calls that way.

 

‘I just can’t find the time’

Some (grand)parents I’ve spoken to indicated that planning is also very hard with young children. Depending on the culture – for example, Hofstede’s theory states that Western cultures are more individualized – the grandparents don’t want to impose on the lives of the parent/primary caretakers. Some families have to bridge a huge time zone difference which makes it challenging to “catch” each other in a moment that neither of the parties feels tired because it’s either too early in the morning or too late in the evening. There are so many responsibilities a parent or caretaker needs to take care of first, and connecting to family members at a distance might feel like a chore rather than fun family time.

 

I just want to hold their little hand and hug them”

Believe me, I know how heartbreaking it is to be away from the ones you love; you just want to hug them and give them a kiss. For some people, not being able to physically touch the ones you love can be even more painful, if this is one of your “languages of love”. The Dutch have a word called “huidhonger”, which literally translates to “skin hunger,”: the feeling people develop when they are touch deprived and feel disconnected from one another.

“Family video calls feel like forced conversations”

Quality time (another one of the love languages) is also hard to get when you’re at a distance. You just want to be with them and hang out, maybe not do anything. One interviewee answered: “Bonding, to me, means to just enjoy the silence together”.

 

“I wish there was something I could do for them to show them how much I care”

 The so-called “Acts of Service” are doing something for your loved one that you know they would like, such as cooking them a meal, taking the kids to school, or cleaning the house. Doing an act of service for someone can feel difficult at a distance. For example, grandparents at a distance would love to babysit (to help the parents), but that can be practically challenging (or impossible) if you cannot be physically there. Grandparents feel like they have so much to offer, but the distance is getting in the way. They want to do more but you just don’t know-how.

 

“I feel like I’m missing out, they are growing so fast”

One day they are just a tiny baby making gugu-gaga sounds, and the next they are walking around using full sentences and you’re like: “how did that happen?” and “how did I miss that?”. You want to be a part of their special moments such as their first smile and their first steps, but you also want to have “normal” moments together like simply brushing your teeth together. Plus, you see their faces changing so fast.

 

“I know I won’t be around forever (grandparent) and I want to leave a legacy”

When it comes to aging, many people want to experience the satisfaction of “giving back”, contributing to, and being of service to others. Some of the grandparents (and parents) I’ve spoken to want to leave memories and a legacy for their children to enjoy after they have passed away but forget to do that before it’s too late.

 

“I want to invest time to bond, but I also love my life and hobbies and sometimes life just gets in the way”

Many (grand)parents have busy social lives and it’s easy to forget to invest the time to spend on (grand)children if it’s not a habit. Out of sight, out of mind. People find it difficult to build a family ritual if you’re not together.

 

“I see a lot of pictures, and on the one hand they make me happy but on the other hand they make me sad because I’m not a part of it and I feel like I’m just watching their life through the sidelines”

Sure there’s Messenger, WhatsApp, iMessage, WeChat, or other photo-sharing solutions, but there’s no two-way street and interaction with the child(ren). You feel like you’re watching their life from a sideline rather than being a part of it. You receive a lot of nice pictures from their lives, but you don’t feel like you’re a part of that. Plus, when you share pictures it’s usually to the family app, where only the adults see your updates.

 

“I’m not good at technology”

Some people might be a bit “scared” of technology. Either because they are too old for it and don’t feel “tech-savvy enough” or because they don’t think it’s right for children. Sometimes, they feel the combination of warm bonds and technology just doesn’t rhyme. Some parents are opposed to any screen time at all for children.

 

A little bit scared

Finally, it might be that you’re also a little scared to fully open your heart to a little loved one at a distance because it can be scary to love someone. It might be easier not to do that because of the fear of missing out (#FOMO). I devoted a blog/vlog on this here: https://peekabond.com/2021/10/13/being-a-long-distance-auntie/

Try Peekabond

Do you recognize these pains and would you like to find a way to bond remotely with young children? We have a solution to soften the pain of being away from a child at a distance: 

Peekabond is a simple way to share playful moments and have fun together. We give: 

  • Inspiration of fun, playful activities (ranging from games, stories, songs etc)
  • Responsible content that is based on child-development science 
  • A way to communicate directly with young children
  • To share moments in a two-way street (not just pictures from babies to family but actual shared experiences)
  • A safe place to store everything 

We have a growing library of over 50 activities that you can use to build a bond with your loved ones. It’s available for iOS and Android. 

Download our app today for instant access to fun and playful activities to do when you’re at a distance.

Try Peekabond




Being a long-distance auntie

My little loved one is in Australia and I haven’t seen her in real life since January 2020. She is now 2 years old, and she was still a baby last time I saw her. Most days are totally fine, but some days are really hard.