My mom told me a story a couple of years about the best thing that had happened to her. I was expecting her to tell me about bidding and making slam at her weekly bridge game. I thought she might mention having lunch with a friend. Nope. She told me her grandson had called. Cole phoned to let her know that she was going to be a great-grandma. Now this wasn’t her first great-grandchild. But it was the first time she got a personal phone call announcing the news. That was when I realized how important it is to make communication with grandchildren a top priority. Good communication brings great joy. So make communication with your grandchild your top priority now, so it will bring you joy later!
When I first became a grandma, I didn’t give much thought to communicating with my new grandbaby. I just wanted to hold that little eight-pound bundle and love on him. Now that “grandbaby” is 14 years old, and taller than me by many inches. What I want now is to have conversations with him. I don’t care what we talk about, as long as we are both talking and having fun.
Now I have several years of grandparenting experience under my belt. I’ve discovered that the key to a long-term relationship with your grandchild depends on your communication with him. Both the quality and quantity of your communications matter. Unlike activities, communication doesn’t have to be face-to-face. In fact, good communication habits with your grandchild can overcome many of the barriers we face as grandparents.
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Why words need to be cultivated in your relationship
So let’s talk about good communication strategies so that you can lay a useful foundation for maintaining a long-term relationship with your grandchild. Building a foundation for your relationship based on words is so important. As your grandchild gets older, his or her ability to use language will open doors for both of you to share life together. Long-distance grandparents greatly benefit from having regular conversations with their grandchild. Grandkids learn important life skills by learning to have meaningful conversations with adults. Both sides win. Speaking from experience, the more words your grandchild has at his disposal, the more interesting the conversations can be.
When you are a long-distance grandparent, nothing will replace the time you spend face-to-face with your grandchild. But in between these face-to-face visits, you will want to have more consistent contact with your grandchild. Consistent contact will allow them to get to know and trust you. Consistent contact allows you to get to know your grandchild. Your goal is to develop the relationship beyond an annual visit, or the expected “Thank You” for gifts given. Using technology will help you make communication a top priority.
Prioritize Face-to-Face communication
So as you focus on communication, take a pointer from the business world: if you have something important to say, say it in person. If you can’t do that, say it face-to-face via a zoom meeting or FaceTime. A phone call is a distant third place option, and your last resort is an email or any written communication. Virtual face-to-face communication works almost as well as actually being in the same space. Use virtual face-to-face whenever you can’t be physically present.
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Younger children especially will benefit from seeing your face as you talk with them on the phone or via a Zoom meeting. If you don’t yet know how to use technology for face-to-face screen time, ask the parents of your grandchild to help you set it up. It will be well worth the effort to turn a phone call into FaceTime or a Zoom encounter. Your younger grandchild will be better able to connect who you are who they are talking to if they can see you. It is never fun to be mistaken for the “other” grandma!
When I was first introduced to the Marco Polo app, I was so excited that I could make a video and send it to my grandchild and not worry about interrupting anything the family might be doing. But the format did not work as well as I hoped. One of my younger grandsons became upset when I didn’t answer his questions as he watched the replay. He felt that I wasn’t listening to him. I realized that even though he could see me and hear my voice on Marco Polo, the real time component was lacking. I’ve since moved all of my communication with my grandkids to FaceTime or Zoom to get the most benefit from our time together.
Prioritize consistent communication
The key to successful long-distance communication is to be consistent. You also want to be fun. Some people talk with their grandchild every day, some people try to connect once a week. It has worked better for me to schedule connections with my grandkids at least once a month. If we can talk more, that is great, but I aim for at least a monthly conversation. One of the things that helps me to be consistent in connecting with my grandkids monthly is to reach out to them on the date of their birth. On the 12th of every month I make an effort to FaceTime my oldest granddaughter. It is okay if the 12th doesn’t work out . . . we generally find a day to talk together somewhere in the week.
Prioritize actual communication
The most successful exchanges happen when you prepare for the time you have to enjoy your grandchild’s company. This is where being fun comes into play. So what do you do with these FaceTime conversations? That depends on the age of your grandchild. My youngest grandkids will take the phone and wander around the house showing me toys, and pets, and more often than not, the ceiling of their living room as they struggle to manage both the camera and the conversation. I’ve taken advantage of their desire to show me stuff with my desire to foster their communication skills by setting them tasks to do while we are talking together on the phone. Getting them to talk beyond a “yes” or “no” answer will show that you are making communication a top priority.
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Communication building ideas for younger grandkids
When you incorporate tasks into your FaceTime phone call, you are helping your younger grandkids learn how to listen carefully, follow directions, as well as giving them an opportunity to talk about an item of interest to them. You can ask your grandchild to show you something “green”, or to find something “round”. Expand your requests to “show me your favorite book,” or “let’s count how many pillows are on the sofa.”
Ask seasonal questions. “What are you going to be for Halloween?” or “Where are you going to go for Thanksgiving?” Encourage them to tell you about activities they are participating in like T-ball, or gymnastics. Ask them what they like best about circle-time at their preschool.
Another activity that works well is to play language games. My four-year-old granddaughter loves it when I play “The Opposite Game” game with her. I supply a word and ask her for the opposite. This game has given us many opportunities to point out words that can have several opposites (the opposite of “small” can be big, large, giant, etc.). We have also discovered opposite pairs that mean different things. For example, “light” can be the opposite of “dark” or “heavy”. As your grandchild grows in language skills, you can expand the opposite game to synonyms and rhyming words.
Before your FaceTime or Zoom meeting with your grandchild, jot down some ideas. Find an interesting fact to share or a song to sing. Your grandchild may even sing along with you! Prepare to tell them a quick story about something you did when you were his age or something his parents did when they were little. The act of getting prepared for a conversation with your grandchild will demonstrate that you are making communication with him a priority.
Communication building ideas for older grandkids
One important reminder is that you want to listen more than you talk, especially with older grandkids! Show interest in what your grandchild is interested in. Chances are he will be more willing to talk with you when the topic is of high interest to him. My grandkids are interested in sports, video games, and animals. It is often easy to get them talking when I bring up a subject that they are excited about.
You can also play language games for older children. An effective game is “20 Questions”. There are also word and language games you can play with similes, metaphors, and analogies for your more language-savvy grandchild. Playing language games has the benefit of being both fun and educational.
I quiz my older grandchildren on common knowledge facts. My husband and I also drill them on their addition/subtraction facts and their multiplication tables. Challenging them to count by 7’s (or 2’s), or to give me the square root of common numbers (or to practice addition facts) allows them to feel capable as well as impressing me with how smart they are! You can also share with them little known facts that you have picked up that you think will delight them. For example, alligators on land can only run about 8 miles an hour, and that is the little ones, not the big ones who have to drag their mighty tails along the ground. In the water though . . . watch out! (Hint: they are much faster swimmers than we are). The sky is the limit about things you can find to talk to your grandkids about!
End by setting the date for your next call
The last thing you should do when you are closing your time together is to set up an expectation for your next call. When will you call? What topics might you talk about? What will you find out about before that next call? (I now search for interesting facts about animals that my grandkids are enamored with). Is there something you want them to find out about before your next call? A big part of the enjoyment is to be able to anticipate the next fun encounter with you. Set it up, put it in your planner, and show up.
In summary, build the foundation for communication now. When your grandchild is older, he will know how to reach out to you and share the big things that are happening in his life. Your relationship with your young adult grandchild is built on the foundation you laid when he still lived at home. These foundational steps include:
- Let them see your face in real time
- Be consistent
- Prepare songs, stories, riddles, topics and questions ahead of time
- Be fun! Don’t ever be boring!
- Schedule your next conversation
Begin where you are at right now. Take into consideration the age of your grandchild and his developmental stage. Strive for consistency, and you can build a relationship with your grandchild that will last throughout your lifetime. When communication has become your top priority, you have set the stage for deepening the relationship with your grandchild. Get my free Grandparent Communication Starter Guide for more helpful ideas. Also, check out Long-distance Grandparenting for more tips.