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The Grandparent Effect

December 20, 2018

If you find yourself sandwiched between two generations — your children and your aging parents — do all that you can to nurture their connection.1

With some exceptions, grandparents can deliver to grand-kids the unconditional love — and more — that can make an important contribution to a child's life. Particularly during times of family upheaval such as divorce, remarriage or illness, or when faced with their own challenging personal experiences, kids may find it easier to speak openly to grandparents than to anyone else. 

With over 40% of grandparents living more than 200 miles away from their grand-kids,2 how can a strong connection develop when distance keeps generations apart? Some approaches use technology to enable the kinds of experiences that families in proximity more easily enjoy. Ultimately, a strong grandparent-grandchild bond hinges on our willingness as parents to shepherd the relationship forward. Here are some suggestions:

  • Arrange FaceTime or Skype calls. Inform grandparents in advance of the children's interests and activities, so the elders can raise specific questions like, "Tell me about this week's dance class…" or "What did you see on your school field trip?" Encourage shorter, more frequent calls than longer calls, especially with the younger kids.
  • Provide grandparents with copies of the little one's favorite books so they can read together during video calls. Music, too, can be shared this way. Encourage the kids to show and tell what they're working on in school, learning on the piano or in gymnastics class.
  • Suggest that the grandparents surprise the children with shipped packages — kids love receiving mail addressed in their name. Small boxes with cookies, little toys or random items will be a highlight of their day.
  • Inform the grandparents about the kids' preferred methods of communication, whether texting or Instagram or Facebook (and provide tutorials if the elders need technology coaching).
  • Suggest they play games together on their smartphones, such as Words With Friends or QuizUp.
  • Encourage grandparents' one-on-one time with each grand-kid without their siblings' presence. Research shows that time spent with grand-kids individually goes a long way to cementing the connection.
  • Remind the elders to tell tales about the family's past, especially stories about mom or dad's childhood quirks and mishaps. Those are sure to engage and elicit good-natured laughter.
  • Display photos of grandparents around the house, especially images of the younger and older generations together, photos that capture those special moments that seal fond memories.
References & Citations

1 Content for this Tip of the Month was provided by Nancy Zinaman, LCSW, therapist at The Family Institute, whose specialty areas include working with grandparents and grandparent-related issues.

2 "Geographic distance between grandparents and their grandchildren in the United States in 2011." Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/241891/distance-between-us-grandparents-and-their-grandchildren