Regular contact and emotional attachment are two keys to building a connection with your grandchildren.
When my daughter was in kindergarten, she enjoyed her grandparents visits so much that she made her own double-sided book titled, “What Grandmas Do Best” and “What Grandpas Do Best.” She drew pictures of the things she enjoyed doing with them. And the book reminded her of the good times she had once her grandparents returned home. Although she is now a teen, the book remains a treasured keepsake and frequent chats via webcam continues to keep their bond strong.
“Regular contact and emotional attachment are two keys in building a connection with a grandchild,” notes Legacy Project Chair Susan V. Bosak. “When children are close to a grandparent, they have a better sense of who they are and where they’ve come from. They have roots, a history, and a sense of continuity and perspective.”
The holidays are a great time for strengthening family bonds, particularly if your family lives far apart. Bosak recommends focusing on the important connections across generations in your family throughout the year. What you ignore withers; what you pay attention to blossoms. Here are some ideas:
The “write” thing
For long-distance grandparents, letter writing or sending emails is one of the best ways to keep in touch. Sneak in surprises to simply say, “I love you.” Send a package that includes “learn as you play” gifts such as a map puzzle or a model airplane.
Pack your bags
Make a trip memorable by collecting souvenirs and postcards, and then put them together in a scrapbook. The Legacy Project offers online Across Generations activities that include a downloadable Generations Scrapbook.
Then and now
Grandparents provide a great source for intergenerational learning. Start with holidays and celebrations, fashions, games, and then go on to include topics that are of interest to your child. Using the Legacy Project website, grandparents can create and record a Life Statement about the important values and life lessons they wish to pass on to their grandchildren.
Look in a book
“Sharing a book together is a simple yet powerful way to build intergenerational bonds,” points out Bosak. Start a book club in which a grandparent sends a grandchild a new book once a month. Long-distance grandparents can talk with grandchildren about the book over the phone, and also send an audio recording of them reading the story. This familiarizes young children with the grandparent’s voice, and is a great way to entertain children during car trips.
Gifts don’t always have to be tangible. Grandparents can express their thoughtfulness and love to their grandkids by taking them to shows, plays, concerts, or miniature golf, and giving them the gift of experience.
Grandparent and grandchild can pair up for mutually engaging community services like planting trees, organizing book drive, or visiting nursing homes. Check out Join Hands Day, a national project that brings youth and adults together to improve their communities.
Share your interests and hobbies with your grandchild. The fun is doubled when grandparent is the teacher. Introduce grandchildren to activities of the past, and let them take you into the future with their computer knowledge. Participate in the Kids Saturday workshops offered at local home improvement stores.
Photos and keepsakes always have a story behind them. Let your grandchild interview you and take notes so it could be turned into a memoir or newsletter. “You can have an ‘Ask Grandma’ advice column and an ‘I remember when…’ section to share tips and reminiscences. You can also include tidbits about family history or important dates in the family,” suggests Bosak. “The whole family can contribute even if they’re spread across the country. This is especially good with teenage grandchildren.”
“Listen to a Life” Contest
Legacy Project runs this contest every year from September to March. A grandchild can interview a grandparent about his or her life and submit a 300-word essay to win a computer and other prizes. The website offers tips for doing a life interview. It’s a great “excuse” to sit down and talk. legacyproject.org/contests/ltal.html