By Lori Longo, MA in Child Development, JFCS Center for Children and Youth.
These are certainly difficult times to maintain the important connections that everyone needs to stay resilient during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. One of the many stressful outcomes of the shelter-in-place requirement is that it has kept grandparents apart from their grandchildren, whether they live in the same town or in a different state.
Connection with our family members is important for our well-being. Children benefit from the loving, nurturing, and positive interaction they have with grandparents. Grandparents equally benefit from regularly interacting with their grandchildren. Regular contact with their grandchildren in a variety of creative ways will help balance the sense of isolation that grandparents feel while social distancing. It can be fun for the children and possibly give their parents a short break.
Nowadays we have the technology to connect online when we have to be physically apart. The technology provided by Facebook, FaceTime, Zoom, and other platforms has helped bring grandparents and grandchildren together, but can also be challenging to use effectively. Young children often have a hard time staying focused on a screen. They walk out of the room, or they are unwilling to talk to their grandparent at that moment. Older children have had more experience with the online medium but need some guidance to keep their interest while talking with grandparents. Grandparents may need some help with ideas of how to engage their grandchildren during the online session.
Here are a few suggestions that may help the online communication between grandparents and their grandchildren:
- Start the conversation by sharing your favorite color, what you are wearing today, or what you had to eat for breakfast
- Show a drawing you have made (coloring, chalk, etc.)
- Read a picture book. It helps if both have the same book
- Sing a favorite song together
- Show photos of when they were young (either of grandparent or grandchild)
- Look at baby photo album and tell stories of that time
- Create a scene and/or put on a show with stuffed animals, dolls, or trucks to show to Grandma
- Set out cups and cookies for a virtual tea party
- With older children, form a “book club”. Both grandchild and grandparent read the same book and then discuss each chapter on their weekly FaceTime call. During the call they could each take a turn reading a paragraph aloud.
More than ever, we are missing physically holding each other. Snuggling together to read a story is one of the treasured things that we do with children. In the absence of that, we need to find ways to hold something of each other in our hands. Send notes, letters, and pictures through the old-fashioned mail. Holding the piece of paper that a loved one has also touched creates a feeling of connection. Grandparents could start the exchange of mail.
- Send postcards from travels
- Write encouraging notes about learning
- Write a story for a grandchild to illustrate
- Start a story and have grandchild write the next part; keep it going back and forth
- Gather a few pictures of the last time you were together (vacation, birthday party, family gathering); make a card with the photos
The predictability of a routine is comforting in uncertain times. Setting a time each week for grandchildren and grandparents to connect online will be good for both. Each of them will look forward to and plan for their weekly call.
These are just a few ideas to stimulate your creative thinking about helping grandparents engage with their grandchildren. I hope you will find more ways to encourage that special bond between your child and their grandparents so that all family members will stay safe and well while sheltering in place. During better times, these ideas may also be helpful for grandparents who live far away from their grandchildren to continue to build their connection.
If you need support or guidance during this time, or are facing other challenges as a parent, JFCS’ Center for Children and Youth is here for you. Our team of parenting experts and clinicians can provide online counseling to help you and your family. We can also help you establish healthy family routines, connect with other parents, plan activities at home, and receive critical assistance when you need it most. Contact us or call 650-688-3046.