By Barbara Levy Gradet, LCSW
Got grandkids? Then you probably know that grandchildren are the reason we go to the trouble of having and raising children. Like the t-shirt says, “If I had known that grandchildren would be this much fun, I would have had them FIRST!”
Gone are the days of multiple generations living under the same roof. Modern life separates families, sometimes across town, sometimes across the globe. Many grandparents are experiencing the challenges of building strong relationships with their grandchildren across the miles.
The best thing to come along to help to bridge the geographic divide is the internet with Skype, Videochat, Facetime…… Through the wonder of this technology, those of us who live far away from our grandkids can interact with them visually, a huge advantage over the letter-writing and phone calls of previous generations.
Using this technology requires some creativity to make these virtual visits engaging and fun for the kids and grandparents. There are many resources online to help us learn to use this technology to the fullest. One great resource is grandparents.com. The site is a wealth of resources for all things grandparental and includes a special section of ideas for long-distance grandparenting.
I have now been a long-distance grandmother for 2 1/2 years. I have tried various techniques, some more successful than others. The main challenge I have found is to continue changing the type of my interactions according to what is appropriate for the child’s developmental stage and personality.
Here are some ideas that I found worked well:
- IDEA: When my grandkids were newborns, video visits were an important way for me just to watch them, listen to their gurgles, marvel at their progress and growth. At this age, I started reading simple board books to the babies so that they could become familiar with my face and voice and continue to recognize me between actual visits.
- IDEA: As the kids started to know me, I sent them their own copies of the board books I was reading so that their parents could turn the pages as I read. In this way, the kids could see the pictures up close as I described them.
- IDEA: I next incorporated puppet shows to keep visits visually interesting, using simple puppets – bunnies, chickens, pigs – at first and graduating to puppet characters they recognize.
- IDEA: Another thing that has continued to work well is singing to and with the kids. I make it a point to learn the songs they are learning as well as to introduce some they don’t know which they then connect to our time together.
- IDEA: As my grandchildren became toddlers, I found it increasingly more difficult to get and keep their attention. Now that they are mobile, they can choose whether to participate in a video visit. Video visits are now shorter but we are able to have a conversation and they love to show me things they have made. It is often helpful for visits to be timed to meal times as the kids are more stationary and we can talk about what they are eating. At this stage, I have needed to adjust to their now deciding when they don’t want to visit with me. At these times, I have found it most helpful to have a conversation with their parents as they come in and out when they want to join in.
I’m sure that many of you in this situation have come up with great ideas. I know I will need to stay creative and open to different ways of communicating as they grow.
No virtual visit can ever take the place of real visits, with hugs and kisses and getting on the floor to play. But quality time with grandkids, through the magic of technology, can certainly enhance the joy of grandparenting!
By Barbara Levy Gradet, LCSW, Executive Director, Jewish Community Services
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