Building Love and Affection with Grandchildren at a distance
To anyone with family and friends who live far from them, staying in touch can be challenging. On top of that, trying to build new relationships with grandchildren, cousins, nieces, and nephews can seem daunting. Building new relationships with younger family members is challenging because we sometimes don’t know HOW to connect.
You need a plan
Accepting where the children are in their development can be very tough, but it can also let you know that there is some breathing room while you and their parents get a plan together about how you are going to connect. What? Building a plan? Families don’t have plans; they just do. Well, yes, and no. Yes, families often just do activities, pick up the phone to talk, shoot text messages, and send recorded video messages. However, you need a plan when you are at a distance and want to build love and affection with young children.
You and the young children’s parents need a plan to build your relationship when you are not with the children. That plan could include the following:
- Sending pictures/ videos
- Video chats
- Virtual playtime
- Snail mail
Please do not think this requires spreadsheets, formal project planning, or quarterly stakeholder meetings. No, the kind of planning that I am talking about is simply communicating with all the parties and understanding how best to build a relationship between the children and those who are remote.
Sending Pictures and Videos
As a remote grandparent, aunt, or uncle, when you receive pictures or videos of the young children, you must be sure to let the person sending the photos or videos know how much you appreciated the time and effort to send them to you. The busy mother or stressed-out father needs to know that their effort is appreciated. Conversely, YOU need to be sure to send fun pictures to the young children. I recommend these pictures are of activities that you enjoy doing. The action and even silly pictures will make it easier for mom or dad to talk to the young child about how silly grandpa or grandma is. Do not discount the importance of play with young children both in person and virtually through images of others.
What a time to be alive! Video chats and recordings are a great way to stay connected when you can not be together for special events like birthdays, band performances, or youth sporting events. Video chats, either live or recorded, are perfect ways to ensure that those young children know you care AND are sharing your life with them. The video chats with the young children allow them to ask you pointed questions about your life and the activities you are involved in. How would your young nephew or niece know that you enjoy skiing? If you don’t talk about the big ski trip, you are going on in a few days, and you don’t talk about it.
Another essential part of video chats and recordings is that they offer all parties the chance to notice some of the nonverbal communication that is very important to building love and affection. The opportunity to see grandma’s eyes light up when talking about the upcoming visit to the grandchild lets them know that grandma’s excitement and love towards the grandchild is genuine and means as much to the grandchild as the words convey.
Virtual playtime can be challenging for those who didn’t grow up in a digital world. Virtual playtime can take many forms, so it is important not to let the concept or idea intimidate you. There are some great tips on virtual playtime called out in the last blog about babysitting at a distance. You should check out that blog for some great tips that you can do with very young children.
If your children are a bit older, I suggest that you think about using some of the online gaming platforms to play video games with your older grandchildren. Another great activity that you can do online with older grandchildren is to share some hobbies and teach them crafts if they enjoy those activities. There is no reason you can’t use video conferencing tools to sit together and work on the same type of model airplane or teach a child how to use gimp (plastic lace) to make a cool key chain or bracelet. Virtual playtime can take on many forms. Playtime depends on the child’s age, but it is crucial to play and interact with the remote child as much as possible since the act of play teaches many attributes of life to children.
Yes, old fashioned mail. Letter writing is changing. With technology, many of our younger relations have become accustomed to short communication through different text and social media platforms. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not angry or putting my ‘grumpy old guy’ hat on. I say that long-form letters or postcards can be meaningful to the recipient. I have interviewed many adult grandchildren who kept the letters their grandfathers and grandmothers sent to them as children. Writing letters allows the sender to express themselves to the recipient in a way that a short text message does not allow for. The young person also enjoys receiving a piece of mail that is just for them and not for mom or dad (unless mom or dad needs to read it).
There is a certain amount of excitement that I have seen with young children when they have received a birthday card or letter in the mail that can not be duplicated by the receiving of a text or email. An added benefit of writing a letter or note to the distant child is that you can use language that will hopefully challenge them and will build up their language skills. YOU are sneaking a language lesson into their world through your own use of language to express how much you love them and what events are going on in your own life.
Why it might not seem like it at first, using the four tools mentioned above WILL increase the amount of love and affection with the remote child that you are communicating with. We live in fantastic times where we can see and hear each other over great distances. Uncles, Aunts, Grandfathers, and Grandmothers do not have to be unconnected to the little ones IF the adults choose to use the available tools at hand. By using technology, we can build up and support the love and affection between generations. We CAN if we choose to be the loving mentors that children need.
Be sure to review the different ideas and blog postings on Peekabond (or you might even want to try their free app). There are many other ideas and suggestions for creating meaningful bonds with those distant grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
About the author
Greg Payne is the host of The Cool Grandpa Podcast. He discusses the importance of the role of Grandfathers in the lives of grandchildren and families. Greg and his wife, Karen, can be found whitewater kayaking on the weekends, where Greg tries not to get too banged up while having fun. Feel free to connect with Greg via email at this link or on his website.