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Distance Grandparenting With Young Grandchildren

This guest post by Dr. Judith Van Hoorn first appeared in GRAND Magazine. She is a Professor Emerita at the University of the Pacific, and author of the forthcoming book: THE GIFT OF PLAY: How Grandparents Enhance the Lives of Young Grandchildren.

Grandparents are trying to figure out “pandemic grandparenting.” We’re missing all the loving, physical connections with our young grandchildren. Young children’s lives have changed dramatically, but they don’t understand the reasons for these changes. Now more than ever, our grandchildren need time to feel relaxed and have fun, and, most of all, feel loved – and so do we!

My husband Derek and I have four grandchildren. It’s easier to feel connected with the two older ones, but what about our younger grandchildren? We’ve found some ways that work for our family, and it’s been natural to talk with other grandparents to share advice and tips.

Familiar Activities Are Reassuring for Babies and Toddlers

When you think about past visits, what made your grandchild feel relaxed when you went to their home or they came to yours? Is there a favorite lullaby or a song that makes them smile or a baby game like peek-a-boo or a chasing game? One grandparent told me that when they Skype, her granddaughter Hannah can be shy at first but relaxes as they take a leisurely virtual walk around the house, stopping so Hannah can see her toys behind the couch, family photos on the piano, and the huge stuffed elephant that always delights Hannah. Another grandparent pointed out, “I find play rituals make things special. They’re something unique to you, that your grandchildren associate with you. My granddaughter just had her first birthday. She knows I’m the “finger-play grandma.” Resources for families often have ideas you can modify to include grandparents: Click Zero To Three

Derek and I always enjoyed mealtimes with our son and his family. Now we sometimes join them for ‘virtual’ dessert. Tonight, our three-year-old grandson spontaneously started singing, “Ring Around the Rosie” and loved it when we all joined in. We all want to help our families feel more relaxed in this stressful time. Grandparents talk about watching children play –outdoors and inside, singing songs together, reading books, and telling silly stories.

Some grandparents are mailing small packages with materials or toys such as creative art supplies, favorite books, puppets, and cars. When the package arrives, they might then read the book, draw a picture, or pretend the puppets are having a birthday party.

Share Dr. Susan Linn and Audry Duck puppet shows to help young children learn about COVID, understand that they may feel sad, and learn what can help them feel better, like ways they can still visit their grandparents: Click here

Grandparents who live near their grandchildren are finding ways to visit in person – yet maintain necessary physical distance. Most visit through a windowpane, a glass door, or watch children play outside while the grandparent stands outside the fence or sits in a car. (These grandparents emphasize their “#1 principle is to coordinate with a parent!)

“Our son, Grant, came over with some food for us yesterday afternoon and brought the kids to our back door, a French door with lots of window panes. We were so excited to see them. First, we waved at each other, blew kisses, talked … Then we came up with the idea of drawing on opposite sides of the glass with markers. It was great! We outlined the kids’ hands, and 5-year-old Audrey outlined ours; 2-year-old Sydney scribbled. We played tic-tac-toe; Audrey loved it. Sydney loved scribbling on her own separate window pane. It felt like a real visit.”

“Yesterday I went over to see my granddaughters. My daughter was playing with them in the backyard, so I went in the back gate and sat on the bench in the corner under the pine tree.  They kept looking at me, wanting me to join them. My daughter explained that I had to keep away because of the virus, that even though none of us was sick, we needed to be extra careful. After that, I set up some lawn chairs in front of me to make a barrier. That worked.”

Make Virtual Visits Fun

Virtual video visits and phone calls are more natural when you follow your grandchild’s lead. Some always have so much to tell you, while others run and play. Reassure parents that you don’t expect your grandchild to feel obliged to interact with you.

Make virtual visits a special time to focus on your grandchild. Arrange other times for adult conversations.

Find ways to do everyday things. Video visits are great times to enjoy watching your grandchild play. When a child goes off-screen, an adult or older child can help (silently) by keeping the camera focused on the child so you can watch without interrupting their play.

Continue telling stories and reading together. Enjoy reading a book while a parent or older sibling carefully arranges a short picture book so you can read easily and talk about the illustrations. It’s also fun to watch a parent reading a book and cuddling up with the child while you comment from time to time.

Enjoy the simple pleasures of sharing food. Plan and coordinate a virtual snack visit – even a snack you’ve eaten together in person.

Send photos and texts that require less coordination that a parent can share with the child anytime. Some preschoolers and kindergarteners love replying to your text with their own string of emojis.

Don’t be camera shy. Be the grandparent your grandchild knows and loves. Be outgoing or a quiet observer. Ask questions or tell stories. Sing and dance around. Listen patiently to your grandchild tell a story. Enjoy being silly together. Give yourself permission and go ahead!

P.S. Take photos of your grandchildren just as you always do. That way, you and your grandchild can remember the good times you had, even during these hard times.

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