How to Connect as a long-distance grandparent

Whether your grandkids live all across the United States, or whether they live on another continent, it is easier than you might think to develop a relationship with your grandchild. Certainly there are obstacles to overcome, but the obstacles only make the success of connecting with family a sweeter victory. There are several ways to connect with your grandchild as a long-distance grandparent.

The strategies may vary depending on the age of your grandchild, but the process is the same. We have worked with children and/or grandchildren living in Okinawa, Germany, and Hawaii–all regions you can only reach by plane. (I suppose a ship would also take you there–but who does than anymore!) We have three sets of grandchildren that currently live in three different states. From the very beginning, my husband and I have been long-distance grandparents. We have learned a process that makes our relationship with our grandkids function well. There are several strategies that will help you succeed in connecting with your grandchild as a long-distance grandparent.

Get your mindset right

The most important thing is to get your mindset into believing that a relationship is possible. In today’s world of electronic communication, there is no excuse for not connecting with people across geographical obstacles and differing time zones. Because of the widespread use of electronic devices, you have the tools you need to succeed at building a relationship with your grandchild. You’ve got this!

Figure out the long-distance logistics

You will need to plan how to connect, but the opportunity and the tools are well within your reach. It helps to put the time zone of your out-of-the-area family on your phone and into your thinking. We have dealt with time zones ranging from 5 hours behind to 11 hours ahead of us. It takes some planning to arrange times to talk by phone when you are figuring out large differences in time zones.

It is also helpful to put reminders in your calendar of when you will initiate connections with your grandchild. I use the days of each month as cues to connect with a specific grandchild on their birthdate. My goal is to initiate communication with my oldest grandson on the 29th of each month and with my youngest granddaughter on the 18th. For the most part, birthdates are evenly spread throughout the month. However, on the 4th of any month, I can make one call to connect with two grandsons!

Share pictures as a tool to let your grandchild know what you are doing. It also helps them connect your face to your life. Ask your family to send current pictures of what they are doing, so that you can be a part of their life and talk about things that you know they have done.

Make the effort to let them see your face

Grandparent using technology to connect with grandchild
Long-distance grandparent using technology to connect with her grandchild.

Visiting your grandchild in person is the gold standard for face-to-face contact, but it is not your only option. You can also use a scheduled Zoom meeting to allow them to see your face and hear your voice. FaceTime or the Android equivalent is also an option. Pro Tip: It does help if the entire family is using the same type of phone to make visual connections easier.

Our family has migrated to being an iPhone family to make FaceTime a viable option for all of us. When your grandchild is younger, it is important to help them realize that you are a real person, and not just a fictional character. Seeing you face-to-face is a concrete experience for them. If they can touch you, it is even more concrete than a video. Having regular face-to-face contact will help you succeed as a long-distance grandparent.

I admired so much the effort my friend Kathy makes to see her grandson. Kathy lives in a different state than her daughter does, so popping in to see her grandson requires planning and a plane ticket. Kathy confirms plans with her daughter about their availability before she schedules a visit. Then she schedules time off from her work. She researches tickets online and looks for a fair price. Kathy goes through this process about every three months, because she knows that her grandson will benefit from spending time with her on a regular basis.

Be prepared for your scheduled time to connect

Gather the stories, and jokes. Make a list of the interesting things you have seen since your last conversation. Be ready to share them with your grandchild. Your interactions with your grandchild should be memorable and fun. Asking them the same questions every time you call will not make your interaction special. How you connect as a long-distance grandparent will determine the quality of the relationship you build with your grandchild.

Stories are one of the best methods of making yourself real to your grandchild. Take time to reflect back on the memories and experiences you had when you were the age of your grandchild. Jot down a title for each story or memory, and let your mind think about what you saw, heard, smelled or experienced. These memories and stories will be valuable to your grandchild as they begin to expand their understanding of the world beyond just their own experiences.

Types of activities that work well with a younger grandchild include:

  • Songs
  • Stories from fairy tales or fables
  • Rhymes
  • scavanger hunts
  • The opposite game
  • Show and tell
  • Animal sounds
  • Counting activities
  • Color and sorting activities
  • Tell them a memory from your childhood

Types of activities that work well with an older grandchild include:

  • Discussing movies that you both have seen
  • Discussing books that you both have read
  • Ask about upcoming holiday, birthday or vacation plans
  • Ask about school
  • Talk about sports and other extracurricular activities
  • Ask about friends
  • Share word riddles or puzzles
  • Ask general knowledge questions
  • Share cool things you have learned since your last conversation together
  • Ask about progress toward goals
  • Tell a story from your childhood

Use gift giving to enhance your connections

The gifts you give your grandchild can be a tool for connecting. Send books that you have read and enjoyed to your grandchild for them to read. Talk about the book together. For your younger grandchild, read a picture book together while you are on the video call. Send them one copy and you read from the other. Give them an app to a video game that you can play together, like Minecraft. The more intentional you are about using gifts to enhance connections, the more you will succeed as a long-distance grandparent.

You can give the gift of an experience, as well. Give a season pass to the Zoo, or to a Trampoline Park. Buy tickets to a Children’s Theater Production. Talk about what they have seen and done with the experience gifts you have given them.

You can also be more practical with your gifts. There are typing apps, SAT Vocabulary Building apps and Bible Memory apps that have a social component so that you can work toward developing skills together with friendly competition.

Set goals together and check in regularly

With your older grandchild, you can set goals together and use the time that you have set to connect to share progress, and obstacles. When both of you are setting and sharing goals, you are establishing an accountability relationship with your grandchild. Accountability relationships are especially helpful in building strong connections that will last beyond childhood. Setting goals together is a key strategy. You can succeed as a long-distance grandparent when you find an ongoing way to connect with your grandchild. Goals provide a golden opportunity to establish and grow that connection.

Conclusion for connecting long-distance

Overcoming obstacles and sustaining a relationship with your grandchild as a long-distance grandparents proves your commitment to your grandchild. They will know how important they are to you when they see your faithfulness at initiating and connection with them on a consistent basis. As you build trust with your grandchild through consistency and reliability, you are setting up foundation for a relationship that will last a lifetime.

Remember to keep the following in mind:

  • Get your mindset in the right place–you can do this!
  • Set up a system of reminders in your planner/calendar or on your phone
  • Be present consistently with your grandchild through video so that they can see your face and hear your voice
  • Be prepared for your scheduled times with your grandchild
  • Use gifts strategically to enhance your relationship
  • Set goals and check in frequently

Being a long-distant grandparent has challenges. But it also has benefits. It forces you to decide what you want from the relationship with your grandchild. It also encourages you to be systematic and intentional about connecting with your grandchild. And finally, you and your grandchild will reap the benefit of overcoming obstacles to establish and nurture your relationship. You can succeed as a long-distance grandparent. Learn these steps and you will learn how to connect with your grandchild. Make these steps part of your routine and you will deepen your connection with your grandchild, even if you are long-distance!

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