There’s no place like home, except when it’s to visit your grandchildren. Home is where you hang your heart, and this week my heart’s in Denver, visiting my grandson, Benjamin, on his third birthday.
Out of sight, out of my mind? Not exactly. It’s not like we don’t have contact throughout the year. Keeping in touch with long-distance grandchildren can be challenging, but is easier these days with the aid of Skype (free teleconferencing) and the phone.
Still, nothing says “I love you” like hearing it and seeing it and tasting it and feeling it and experiencing every nuance of a child’s personality by being there in person. Break out the hugs and kisses…Grammy’s here!
As with any “new” person or experience, the first time a little one sees you after a lengthy period of time, a little shyness is to be expected. Don’t be put off. It’s normal and can take anywhere from two minutes to two days for some children to warm up to you. Lucky for me, it was after only about two minutes and a million hugs and kisses later that we began to reconnect and re-bond. Oh, and the new toy may have had something to do with it.
You can learn a lot about your grandchildren by just watching and listening to them. Here are my Top 10 Ways to Bond and Reconnect with Long-Distance Grandchildren
1. Don’t overwhelm the child. Often, there’s a lot of commotion around the arrival of guests. Speak in softer rather than louder or overzealous voices.
2. Start out slow, be generous with praise, and ask lots of questions (ones that don’t just have a yes or no answer). For example, “What do you like to do when it rains?” or “What’s your favorite toy?” rather than “Do you like Buzz Lightyear?” You’ll learn a lot more with questions that are focused, that use superlatives (the BEST, the FAVORITE), and open-ended.
3. Silly is good. Sometimes saying something silly breaks the ice and gets them laughing. “Oh no! Is that a lion I see in the corner?” Laughter is infectious and can smooth out the wrinkles in getting reacquainted.
4. Never demand that a child give you a hug or kiss. Ask permission to give the child a hug and/or kiss, rather than demanding it. For example, “Ben, I’ve missed you. You’ve grown so big! Would it be OK if I gave you a hug?” Be prepared for rejection. If that happens, just say it’s OK and follow it with something like, “OK. Let me know when you’re ready for a hug and a kiss.” It will happen, but you need to be patient.
5. Make sure your kids prime your grandchildren prior to your visit. Make it an event. Build in some one-on-one time.
6. Come bearing gifts. Gifts are great ice-breakers. Do your homework. Ask what toys the kids like, what their interests are, etc. and buy age-appropriate gifts. Thoughtful is better than expensisve.
7. Try to arrange some time for just you and your grandchildren. Allowing the grownup kids a get-away is a great way to get some special time alone with your grandchildren. You’re not JUST babysitting, you’re forging strong bonds and lifelong memories. You will be THE most welcome visitor ever rather than an unwelcome “She’s your mother. YOU spend time with her” kind of guest in your child or child-in–law’s home. They’ll be thrilled to have you visit – ANY TIME.
8. Be prepared with a list of possible activities and places to go and things to do together. Plan special outings, involving the grandkids in the decision of where to go. Give them choices like, “Would you rather go to the zoo or the art museum?” Children love the outdoors. Picnics and trips to the park, nature walks and day hikes can provide lots of interesting adventures, things to see and talk about. Packing the sandwiches, skipping stones, sharing a book, and simple activities in which the kids share the planning and preparation are all great ways to bond. Movies, science centers and museums, parks or walks in the neighborhood provide opportunities to be together, sharing insights, stories, laughs and giggles. One of the great advantages of taking your grandchildren out of their environment the opportunity for both of you to be ‘away from home.’
9. Allow yourself the joy of spending some quiet time with your grandchildren. Relax and enjoy leisure activities with them. You don’t have to always be on the go. Chill. Board and card games are a great opportunity to watch kids in action and to see how they think. Games also allow you to help your grandchild learn. Get really involved in an activity with them. Don’t rush them through things. Give them plenty of time and space to feel, reflect, and express themselves without feeling pressured.
10. Always follow the house rules. No sugar means no cookies, no ice cream, no candy – no matter how much you’d like to “sweeten them up”, abide by their parents’ wishes. That goes for foods, activities, language. Get them up front and avoid ill-feelings and misunderstandings.
Most of all, just have fun and enjoy every single minute with your grandkids. Try not to eat them up in one fell swoop and just savor every delicious moment.
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