If you’re a long-distance grandma, you may feel like it’s harder to build a loving bond with your grandchild. But don’t despair — with consistent effort and a little creativity you can truly make that connection so your grandchild will look forward to regular video chats with you.
The biggest silver lining that came from COVID is the increased use of technology to connect with our long-distance grandchildren. Prior to the Pandemic, I hopped on a plane every other month to visit my youngest granddaughter who’s now 7. It was only an hour flight but it took planning.
When social distancing prevented our in-person visits, I pivoted to Zoom like everyone else. Sophia and I began spending an hour together every Saturday morning on video chats. We soon developed a structure to our chats and looked forward to them.
Children love structure so if you include some similar elements on every call with your grandchild, you’ll find they look forward to those familiar activities. Plan your calls between visits so you come prepared to your chat.
Tips for Chats
- Choose a good time of day. Using video chat means children have to sit quietly at times and focus on the screen. Don’t set up for disappointment by picking a time when they are hungry or restless.
- Help your grandchild adjust for the medium. When young children interact in person, they pick up communication cues from sight, sound, smell, and touch. Video chat only involves sight and sound, so concentrate on those senses.
- Have materials at your side. Collect storybooks, musical instruments, your grandchild’s latest artwork or whatever you plan to show so the child doesn’t lose interest while you scramble to find something.
- Practice looking at the camera. It’s tempting to keep your eyes on your own picture, or the images on the screen – but you really make eye contact when you look at the camera and that’s better for interactive communication.
- Use the same greeting each time. Use the same tone of voice when chatting with infants and toddlers. They learn to recognize and feel comfortable with a real person on the screen when they hear that same sound each time they see the person. They need more visual and sound cues to recognize you on video chat.
- Use a lot of gestures. Be close to the camera – but not so close that your grandchild can’t see your hands. Don’t be afraid to move – don’t be a talking head.
Last Saturday my granddaughter, Sophia made a Zoom list for our call and her mom sent me a photo of it. I was so touched by her list I had a huge smile on my face when we got on Zoom together. As we completed each item on her list, she checked it off.
Sophia’s Zoom list
- Show and tell
- Draw a sunset
- Snack time
- Read a book
- Sing our goodbye song
- Do a physical activity – Simon Says, rhythm game, jumping jacks, hula hoop.
- Play music together and dance.
- Read to each other from the same book.
- Play a memory game – “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing …”
- What’s missing? Place 5 objects on a tray. Ask your grandchild to cover his eyes and take one item away. When they open their eyes, guess what’s missing.
- Draw together – ask your grandchild to teach you to draw something.
- Play “Guess My Snack.” Take a break during the call when you and your grandchild each fix a snack. Then come back to the call with your snack out of view and take turns guessing each other’s snacks with clues.
- Ask a question. What was the funniest thing that happened to you yesterday?
- Build a story together. Each take turns adding just 3 – 5 words at a time.
- Play with virtual backgrounds.
- Share a riddle or joke.
- Solve a crossword puzzle together using printable crossword puzzles.
- Share a photo. Look for interesting photos online or take one of something you saw on a walk; find some old photos of your grandchild as a baby and reminisce.
- Keep the cards they send by your computer. Hold them up and thank them. If you’re on a mobile device, walk to the refrigerator and show their art display.
- Make flashcards or help with homework.
Over half of all grandparents in the U.S. live at a distance from their grandchildren. Since we can expect to have a 20-30-year relationship with our grandchildren, we need to be able to bridge the gap with concrete practical ideas. Keep making the effort — basically, you’re creating a habit with your grandchild so as they get older, they’ll ask to call you or even call you on their own.