Keeping in touch is the key to staying actively involved in your grandchildren’s lives. Following are some fun ways to do it, no matter where you live.
It’s funny how we go through phases of celebrating holidays. When you’re little, you count down to them with glee — holidays separate the days from, well, all the other days. When you’re dating, holidays are an excuse for social events. When you’re married, they become a new ritual. Not long after that, you get busy and may skip them altogether. Then you have children and start all over again.
By the time you have grandchildren, you understand the importance of rituals. You know how to celebrate, too! Celebrate as many holidays as you can with your grandchildren, and that doesn’t have to mean in person:
The holiday season is the busiest time of year for many of us. Lessen your holiday stress by remembering it’s the small family rituals that are the most important, not the yearly feat of pulling off the big meals and gatherings. Survive the holidays by emphasizing the love over the “perfect” plans. Be flexible. And have fun!
Call to say good morning or good night … without talking to their parents. Your grandchild will feel important getting a person-to-person phone call. Having someone who loves them at the other end of the line is an extra bonus! Rest assured, the call can be short (meaning inexpensive). After all, you don’t need to discuss world peace — and if you do, what better audience?
Even infants like to hear your voice. Don’t be hurt if they’re not in the mood to have the phone held to their ear when you call; tomorrow they might actually “talk” to you. There’s no dictionary for “babyspeak”, so just assume they’re saying “I love you.” And if you let your grandchildren know you love them, it won’t be long until they really are saying “I love you.”
Whether you are down the block or across the country, all you need are a stamp, pen and paper to show you care. A letter can be many things, from a short note on a shopping list to a postcard of a frog. They’ll get the message.
Even if your grandchildren can’t read yet, receiving mail will make them feel important. They will love being read a message that is especially for them. Once they memorize the contents (quicker than you might think), they will pretend to read it to themselves.
Preschoolers will enjoy recognizing some letters of the alphabet and will be motivated to learn to read. For elementary-age children, not only will getting the letter be fun, but reading it will also be good practice. If you’d like to write but aren’t sure what to say, mention times you shared recently or activities coming up.
One grandmother got the idea for mailing letters to her grandchildren when she was a little girl away at summer camp. Her bunkmate’s grandmother sent articles, pictures, and comics in the mail. That little girl decided to be that kind of grandma when she grew up. See? Grandparents have far-reaching influence. Maybe your grandchildren will pick up this fun habit and do the same for their grandchildren. And so on ...
Write down the names of your grandchild’s friends. Ask about the friends by name. Even if, as with many children, their friends change weekly, at least one name will probably remain consistent. Your grandchild will appreciate that you cared enough to try. Think how pleased you’d be if your grandchild asked about your friends!
Remember on what day your grandchild has a special activity, class or practice. Then, when you call, write or see them in person, you can ask about how his day went. If you have the opportunity, visit his class, go to a game, etc. so you know what the experience is like for your grandchild.
If your grandchild is one of those who will answer “fine” until the cows come home when asked questions about how his day went, or what he thought about a recent experience, try coaxing details this way: ask your grandchild specific questions but, on purpose, get one vital detail glaringly wrong. For example, ask what he did at so-and-so’s house when you know very well that he was at another friend’s home. More than likely, your grandchild will want to straighten you out — not only about whose house he was at, but what activities they did there. Sometimes it’s most clever to act like you’re not so clever.
Most kids love having things in common with their grandma and grandpa. Every time you mention something — anything — you and your grandchild have in common, watch for your grandchild to smile. Whether it’s that you both hate sand in your shoes, you both like bubble gum, or you both love getting mail, it makes no difference. The more, the better. Pretty soon, your grandchild will be pointing out things they believe you have in common. Perhaps this game helps develop cognitive thinking. The important part is that it makes them feel close to you. Try it; you’ll see.
Kids love getting surprises. Stickers, a headband, or colored shoelaces are tangible proof you care. Even a box of raisins can be a good surprise — almost anything unexpected is a treat.
However, if you are a frequent visitor with your grandchildren, don’t bring gifts every time. They should look forward to you, not the gift. After all, you are the best gift they’ll ever have. If you have more spending money than the parents, help where it counts, with diapers or dancing class.
If you still can’t resist, once in a while treat the parents to some unexpected goodies such as fresh bagels or real maple syrup. They need attention, too.
Read it to them time and again and you’ll be forever connected to that favorite story in their minds. Or send a copy to your grandchildren for their parents to read to them at bedtime. Suggest that they don’t keep it with their other books, but give it a special place to live so that it has a special place in their heart.
Kids are not music critics; they won’t care what your voice sounds like. They will, however, remember your song and they’ll feel close to you when they sing it, no matter where you are. If they happen to hear the song somewhere else, you can be sure they’ll think of you.
Give gifts the children want, not just what you want them to have. If your grandchild longs for something you or the parents disapprove of, ask for another suggestion. Just remember, the more personal you get, the more your grandchild will relate to you. Making a wish come true is a signal you know them well. In turn, your grandchild will want to know you better.
Don’t insist your grandchild share her gift right away. Would you want to share something new and special before getting to enjoy it yourself? The child may be too young to have progressed through the mine/yours/ours phases of early childhood. You can encourage her to share a few toys, but it’s okay if she keeps some special ones in reserve.
Give gifts with no strings attached. Don’t expect anything in return, but feel free to ask about the gift when you speak with your grandchild. If she loved it, she may attach those emotions to you. But don’t think of your gift as a bribe, and try not to be disappointed if she exchanges it for something else or gives it to her best friend. Your goal is to make her happy, and she’ll share her happiness with you!
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.