Tips for staying connected with your grandkids during social distancing

In the age of COVID-19, spending physical time with family has never been trickier. In this article, author and mama of two, Summer Land, shares how her own mother, Donna, has made maintaining a relationship with her grandchildren a priority during social-distancing.

A grandmother and two children posing for a portrait shoot on National Grandparents Day
Brei Clarke Photography

As an American expat who has lived in Australia for nearly 10 years, I’ve watched my mom, Donna, put in a massive effort when it comes to maintaining a relationship with her grandbabies, Daisy & Axel.

From lasting through hour-long FaceTime chats that more closely resemble the filming from The Blair Witch Project (due to my children’s’ inability to hold the camera still and not pointed up their noses…) to sending exciting care packages containing their favorite Puffins cereal to enduring the 34 hour door-to-door journey so she can fill our home with her signature laugh, she’s always made my kids (and me) feel so loved.

After her 12th trip Down Under, Donna made the huge decision to move from Florida and permanently migrate to Australia to live with us. This made sense for a lot of reasons. For starters – she has been a widow for a long time, didn’t have any nearby family and was admittedly aging out of international travel. As working parents, my husband and I also desperately needed her help.

So in July 2019, Donna flew south and moved in with us. Straight away – the already established bond with Daisy & Axel grew even stronger. It doesn’t matter if she’s making their lunches, doing homework, walking them to the bus stop, showing them pictures of her Class of 1967 year book or explaining the effects gravity has on skin, there’s always so much awe and wonderment coming from my kids’ eyes.

Even though this sounds like a happy ending, not everything is as shiny as it seems.

You see, when my mom moved to Australia, it meant moving incredibly far away from my brother and her other grandchild, Jack, who lives in Connecticut. Obviously having an ocean between any family member isn’t ideal, but Donna knew she could and would make all the same efforts she had done in the past. (Video chats, care packages, slide shows, etc.) She also imagined their little family flying over to experience her new life in Australia. After all, it’s way easier to do that trip in your 30s than it is in your 70s!

But then COVID-19 happened and suddenly none of us know when we’ll all get to be physically together.

It doesn’t matter if you’re separated by an ocean or  a compromised immune system, not being able to hug, squeeze, chase after, cuddle, read-to, and eat ice cream with your grandchild(ren) can be devastating.


Why connection with grandparents is important

Healthy relationships between grandparents and grandchildren are important for a few reasons:


According to a study done by the University of Oxford, “research by Professor Ann Buchanan from the Department of Social Policy and Intervention showed that a high level of grandparental involvement increases the well-being of children. A study of more than 1,500 children showed that those with a high level of grandparental involvement had fewer emotional and behavioral problems.”


On top of the emotional benefits, grandparents can provide highly educational conversations by:

  • Showing old photos and identify relatives. This helps children learn about familial roles, genetics, career paths, life lessons, the concept of life and death and so on.
  • Explaining how things worked in the past. This helps demonstrate how technology (from phones, to computers to milk bottles to strollers) have evolved over time.
  • Providing an extra set of shoulders to cry on. During adolescence, a lot of conflict can happen between parent a child. This could be doing homework or arguing about a curfew. Grandparents can have a more approachable disposition, which makes it easier for kids to open up to.



7 Tips for staying connected with grandkids during social distancing


#1 Schedule daily or weekly video chats


While this may not be possible due to what type of technology you have access to and/or time zone differences, getting to see and hear your grandchild is good for the mind body and soul! With so much unknown and changing in the world (e.g. doing school from home and not being able to go to extracurricular activities), having a constant like a life chat with a grandparent can mean the world to a child. It’s also sometimes easier to open up to someone who isn’t plain old “mom or dad.”

Don’t know what to talk about? Try these prompts:

  • Did you make anyone laugh today?
  • What’s one thing you did today that made you feel proud?
  • When we can travel again, where in the world should we meet up?
  • Would you like me to read you a book?
  • Can you show me some artwork?


#2 Send recorded videos or audio messages


Even though video chats are great and can technically be recorded, sometimes it’s fun to simply send a video or audio recording that can be saved onto a tablet (or in the infamous cloud) so that it can be revisited by kids for years to come! Think of it as the modern day answering machine.


#3 Become pen pals


If your grandchild is a newbie then you may be corresponding with their parent in the early years, BUT committing to letter or email-writing can be a fun and sentimental way to stay up to date with what your grand-mini is up to. Also – it’s no secret that kids LOVE getting mail and using pretty stationary so you could also consider sending special stationary that used for your exchanges!

Once they’re older – they’ll love having a sweet scrapbook of letters to save as a treasure.


#4 Write down important dates


I’m not just talking about birthdays. Ask your child or son/daughter-in-law to let you know about school projects, performances, activities, milestones, etc. This way you will have plenty to talk about and celebrate every time you connect!


#5 Get creative with your care packages


Care packages don’t need to be packed with toys. They could be a taste from where you are (like your famous home made zucchini bread), an activity you could do during your next video chat, art supplies so they can paint you artwork to hang in your home, a journal so they can start writing down their feelings or photos of you for them to put in their bedroom!


#6 Get on social media


Social media isn’t for everyone, but it can be a really nice way to feel involved in your grandchild’s life. (That is if their parents are good about posting!)


#7 Make sure photos get printed


Even though you might be loving the photos you see on social media, chances are your 4-year-old grandchild isn’t seeing them as much as you are. This is why it’s so important to make sure kids have printed photos to flick through. You can either ask your child or daughter/son-in-law to print special pictures off or make an album to send yourself!



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