Unlike much of human history, where all the relatives were within a very short distance, today’s parents are often separated from their extended family by hundreds or thousands of miles. (For example, amongst parents who participated in PEPS support groups in Seattle, only 42% had family they could count on for support within a half hour drive versus 22% “longer drive”, and 34% “too far to drive.”)
However, with the assistance of modern technology and travel, it’s possible to build and maintain friendships over the miles.
Good old-fashioned snail mail is very appealing to children – they love having something tangible to open and look at. This doesn’t have to mean a hand-written letter. A grandparent could send postcards, or an envelope with a few stickers in it, or a puzzle from a magazine, or the comics. We don’t get a newspaper at home, and years ago when my girls visited my parents, they loved reading the comics in the paper my parents subscribe to. Ever since then, my parents pack up the Sunday comics every few weeks and send them to the girls. Now half of the comics come to our house, and the others go to my oldest daughter at college to share with her dorm mates.
Skype and Phone Calls
Phone calls are nice. But Skype is even better! Being able to see the child’s face will be precious to your family. And for your young children, having the image of the face as well as the voice makes a huge difference in helping them to connect. Here are some ideas on how to make the most of calls:
- Prep your family member ahead of time with ideas for questions to ask that will help engage the child in a conversation. With a toddler, you might tell family to ask “what does a dog say? What does a cat say” and so on. With a teenager, you might clue in your family in advance that they should ask about a movie your child recently saw, or a trip you’re planning.
- Prep your child ahead of time by reminding them what they know about that family member.
- Remember that toddler attention spans are short. Short but frequent calls are better for building relationships. A 2 minute call every day is more fun than 15 minutes once a week.
- Some people read a story book to the child over the phone / computer. This may be easier for a young child to engage in than a conversation is. They could read the same book every week and the child would probably love that! (When they visit, they can read it in person!)
- Some grandparents like to do “magic”: they coordinate with you to have a snack at home that they also have. They can then “send it through the phone” and you make it magically appear.
Recordings and Photos
- Search for “recordable storybooks” on Amazon, or at Hallmark.com, and you’ll find several picture books that a family member can record their voice on, telling the story.
- Film a family member talking or telling stories, or giving your child a tour of their home or one of their favorite places. Your child can watch it again and again.
- Photos: have photos of family members around the house, and talk about those people often. (And not just formal portraits on the wall! Also have snapshots the child can carry around.)
- Take plenty of pictures when family members visit. Make a scrapbook. Review it with your child before the next visit.
Other recommended articles: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/grandparenting.htm