15 January 2021

Helpful tips for those missing their grandchildren

grandmother video call with grandchild

Due to the global health crisis, 2020 has seen many grandparents not been able to see their grandchildren very often or even at all. While we hope 2021 will be better eventually, it remains a tough time for grandparents. Grandparents obtain so much joy from spending time with grandkids, watching them grow, playing with them, and showering love upon them. So, it’s hardly surprising that when regular visits aren’t possible that this has a negative impact on a grandparent’s state of mind. To help navigate the situation, this article offers some tips for those who are struggling with being apart from their beloved grandchildren.

Arrange for regular video chats

grandchild on video call with grandparents

We are certainly fortunate in this day and age that technology allows us to connect with others in amazing ways. In the past, grandparents would be limited to photos, letters, and perhaps a phone call when the child was old enough to speak, but today video calls can bring grandchildren into our very homes. Speak to the parents and arrange for regular video chats with them and their child, allowing you to see their faces, watch them play, and hear their laughter. It’s not as good as being there but it’s pretty close!

The Bristol Grandparents Support Group (BGSG) is a charity that supports grandparents who can’t see their grandchildren due to family breakdown. As such, they are in an ideal place to guide grandparents during temporary separations too. Jane, a representative of the charity, recommends video calls as a key tool: “To grandparents who find themselves apart from their grandchildren, it is important to communicate in any way you can. That can be by using the internet, so regular FaceTime and other platforms.”

To make the call more entertaining for both parties, make sure to be creative with it. You could read to them, sing lullabies to them, or even entertain them with toys and puppets like you would if you were there in person. DeeDee, from the grandparenting resource More Than Grand, advised when speaking to us that reading via video chat is a great option:

“Books are a magical way for grandparents to connect with grandchildren when they can't be together. Grandparents can use video chat to read storybooks to little ones while they are having a snack - it's the ideal way to keep them engaged. For older children, take turns reading to one another, ideally a book of their choosing. If your grandchildren are teenagers, find out what they've been assigned to read in school and read it yourself. Reading books together gives you something to talk about with them, as well as showing them that you are interested in their world.”

child celebrating birthday with grandparents by video call

Katharine Hill, UK Director of the family life charity Care for the Family, and author of The Little Book for Really Really Brilliant Grandparents, shared some advice with us for grandparents getting used to video calls:

“You don’t have to be a tech whizz – your grandchildren can teach you that – but mastering Zoom, FaceTime or other video chat platforms can help you stay in touch. Find a good time to call, tell them your best jokes, read them stories, help them with schoolwork - be interested in their lives. If they get restless halfway through the call and start jumping on the sofa or doing handstands, don’t worry. It doesn’t have to last for ages - it’s the connection that counts.”

Jane from BGSG shared with us another option: “If you use the internet, why not do a bake in? Following a recipe together and baking a cake can become quite competitive. Reading a bedtime story to your grandchildren is always a special thing to do, you can still share that precious time with one another, either via the internet or over the phone.”

Do whatever you can to make the video call a fun experience and engaging experience, then you will come away feeling like you have spent some lovely, quality time with your grandchild despite not being there in person.

Play games with them remotely

Those missing their grandchildren could also consider playing games with them remotely. This can be achieved via a number of ways. You could set up a video call with the child and their family and play a game that you both own, if they are a bit older, you could enjoy a family quiz while everyone is on the same call.

Jane, from the Bristol Grandparents Support Group, shared with us a great idea that she has utilised herself: “Set your grandchildren a challenge, or better still, get them to challenge you!

My grandchildren challenged me to draw characters that I had never heard off, and there are many.”

Or how about playing online phone games with them? If your grandchild is old enough, you could play classic games like Scrabble via an app on your mobile phone. This would be a great way to enjoy an experience with them, allowing you both to be a presence in each other’s lives.

Ask for regular updates and photos of them

grandparent on mobile phone

Nothing brings more joy to a grandparent’s heart than seeing lovely photos of their grandchild, so why not speak to the parent, explain that you are really missing your grandkids and ask if they would be able to send you more regular updates? The parent might not be aware how difficult you are finding the current situation and therefore will be more than happy to provide daily photos, videos, and written updates about what the child has been up to. If you have a mobile phone app like WhatsApp, you could set up a chat dedicated to these updates, or simply have them sent to your email address.

There are even apps dedicated to helping grandparents stay updated with grandchildren, like Moment Garden. The phone app allows a parent to create and privately share their child’s story, sending daily updates like photos and messages right to the grandparent’s phone. Speaking about what the app can do, the team behind Moment Garden says: “Share your memories effortlessly with the people who matter most! Moment Garden will deliver your moments to your family and friends, right in their inbox. We keep your loved ones close, even if they are far away.”

The app has shared some words of praise for Moment Garden by one of the grandmothers who has found it useful: “Seeing photos and stories of my granddaughter is the highlight of my day. I wish I lived closer, but Moment Garden helps me feel like I’m right there with her as she grows up.”

While receiving updates of the grandchild is great, many grandparents struggle with the fact that that the child doesn’t have them as a consistent presence in their own lives. So why not start sending regular updates to the child yourself? You could send photos of yourself that the parent could show them or if the child is of reading age, why not send them a letter? While pointing out that not all grandparents have access to the internet, Jane, from the Bristol Grandparents Support Group, advises that “writing letters to your grandchildren is a great way to communicate.”

This could be a really nice and personal approach, meaning that they can keep the letters you send them and even write back themselves. What could be nicer to receive in the post than a letter from your grandchild?  

Focus on the child’s passions to strengthen your connection

Kerry Byrne, PhD is a care and connections scientist who has studied ageing for over 20 years. She is the Founder of The Long Distance Grandparent and an ex-pat mum with two little ones who have five long-distance grandparents in their lives. Kerry spoke to us about her tips for those missing grandchildren and advises that when speaking to them that they focus on the child’s interests:

“My top tip is to find out what they care about right now so you can use this to have engaging conversations and share meaningful moments together. For younger grandchildren, play a quick game of ‘What’s your favourite’ (animal, food, toy, etc.). Write down what they say so you can follow up with either a conversation or a letter with fun dinosaur facts or jokes. For older grandchildren, ask about the causes they are passionate about such as the environment or animals. Ask them to send you some information to read about these issues.

“Focusing on your grandchild’s passions and interests, at any age, gives you something to chat about – and also lets them know you are listening and care deeply about the life they are living.”

Make future plans to spend time with them

grandparents with grandchild

While you are currently not able to spend time with them in person, that doesn’t mean you can’t make exciting plans for the future. Planning days out, special occasions, and family get-togethers that can take place at a later date will help you to stop dwelling on the present and look forward to brighter times. You could spend time putting together a list of all the things you want to do with them, the places you can go, and holidays you can take as a family. Speak to the parents and get them to start planning with you. This way you can end up with a whole host of exciting plans to look forward to when you are together again. Having fun plans on the horizon can bring a big mental boost to day-to-day life.

Remember that this is all temporary

Something that is very important to remember for those missing their grandchildren because of the current global health crisis, is that this is all temporary. The limits on travel and the forced time apart from your grandchildren won’t last forever, one day soon you will be able to spend time with them again, receive weekend visits, and travel to see them. It can be easy to get frustrated at the time lost but this is out of your control so instead of dwelling on something you can’t change, think about the future. Use the tips above in the meantime but keep in mind that one day soon, restrictions will be lifted, travel will be possible, and you can spend time again with them in person.

Sadly, there are those whose separation from their grandchildren will never end due to family breakdown so it’s important to remember how lucky we are even given this difficult time. The Bristol Grandparents Support Group is here to help regardless of the permanence of your situation, sharing with us: “Bristol Grandparents Support Group is very experienced in giving support, we have been giving support for thirteen years. It puts us in an ideal position to help grandparents whilst they are facing a temporary separation. The difference is that, of course, these grandparents will be reunited after lockdown, for many the lockdown won’t end.”

Speak to others in your situation

Speaking to others who are in a similar situation to you can also be helpful. There are plenty of other grandparents across the country and indeed the world, who are in the same boat, really missing their grandchildren and tackling the frustrations that come with it. So why not speak with some of them? A website like Gransnet is a great place to do so, being a community of grandparents just like you. Not only do they post articles with tips and advice but there are dedicated forums for connecting with like-minded people. You can learn from the experiences of others, receive their personal suggestions for connecting with grandchildren a long distance away, or simply just enjoy talking to someone who understands your situation.

Advice for grandparents who miss spending time with their grandchildren

  • Arrange for regular video chats
  • Play games with them remotely
  • Ask for regular updates and photos of them
  • Focus on the child’s passions to strengthen your connection
  • Make future plans to spend time with them
  • Remember that this is all temporary
  • Speak to others in your situation

We hope the above tips have been helpful. If you need any advice on making your home more accessible, perhaps by installing curved stairlifts, please do get in touch so we can offer you our expertise.

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