by Kerry Byrne, Ph.D.
Whether it’s because this year is the other grandparents’ turn to share Christmas Day or you just travelled to see them for Thanksgiving, long-distance grandparents can’t always be with their grandchildren during special holidays.
It’s tough to miss out on time together, especially for the excitement of Christmas morning or the joy of attending the school singing recital. Thankfully, there are numerous ways to engage your grandchildren over the holidays—and beyond—so you can nurture those important relationships even when you can’t see them in person.
Here are a few key ideas to get you through the holiday season, including tips about things to send, to say and to play with your grandchildren.
When you can’t be IN the relationship in the way you want to be, set aside time to work ON the relationship. For example, take an hour over the holidays and commit to starting one connection habit you will implement this year. Maybe it’s a bi-monthly care package or weekly short videos to your teen grandchild sharing a short story about them when they were a baby.
Cultivating strong relationships requires a series of mini actions and, like any relationship in your life, you will need to work on this one to make sure you’re able to create and maintain a positive and high-quality relationship.
As long-distance grandparents, the parents are your most important partners when it comes to connecting with your grandchildren from a distance.
But consider other partners available to help you with this connection. For instance, is there a fun auntie and uncle you could invite to a video group chat? Or one of your grandkids’ older cousins who could join you (and might only join you) because their younger cousins are on the call? Older grandchildren are more likely to engage in a video chat if they are recruited as helpers for the younger kids to prepare for that virtual visit together.
No matter how many people are on the video chat, consider preparing a game to play. A super easy game is “Go Find Me.” You can make this a holiday theme, such as Go Find Me something red, green, white, that jingles, that glows like Rudolph’s nose, cold like snow, a book about Santa, etc. Or for older grandchildren, create a quick family quiz and be sure to include questions about the parents. Kids do love to hear stories and random facts about their parents, and it’s a chance for you to share the knowledge only you have about the family.
Top Tip: Send small prizes ahead of time or hand out the prizes ‘virtually’ and mail them after the holidays. This way your grands can look forward to something even after the hustle and bustle of the holidays is done and dusted.
Play is key to building trust with kids. Be willing to be playful and a little silly no matter the age of your grandchildren—even on video chat. Have them go find their belly button or their toes if they are little or include something funny about the parents in the family quiz.
You could also send a few holiday-themed jokes by snail mail, text or a quick video. Encourage them to share the jokes with their friends or offer to meet them on a quick video chat if they would like to hear more jokes. This will go a long way to showing them you can be silly too. Just google best Christmas jokes for five-year-olds or teens and you will be spoiled for options to send.
I encourage grandparents to take screenshots or photos of your video chat time together. These moments are the memories you are creating together. Use the photos or screenshots to make homemade post cards or use them in a letter you send after the chat to thank them for sharing the time with you.
Write a short note describing the chat and let them know how much you valued seeing their face!
It’s hard when we can’t be with the ones we love for holidays.
Whether it’s your 15th or first Christmas without your children and grandchildren, please know you are not alone. There are millions of long-distance grandparents around the world who share your feelings.
But taking even small actions can help when we feel sad or disappointed, and there are so many ways to connect from a distance and let your grandchildren know you are there for them—even from afar.
Kerry Byrne, Ph.D. is the Founder of The Long-Distance Grandparent. Kerry, her husband and 2 kids recently returned home to Canada after living as expats for 5 years in Dubai and the US. Kerry shares practical but meaningful ways to stay connected to your grandchildren from a distance based on research about what works—and her own personal experience nurturing a connection between her children and their grandparents.
How have you connected with your grandkids from a distance at Christmastime? Share your ideas and join the discussion on our Facebook page.