It may be a typical conversation: You ask your grandchild, “How was school today?” He or she answers something along the lines of “Fine.” But what’s next? How can family members connect with children and keep the conversation going?
Here, Anne Hanley, Ph.D., a psychologist, child development professor and a grandmother herself, shares her thoughts and tips for connecting with grandchildren.
The Early Years
“It’s interesting to note that in countries like Spain and Italy, some 68 percent of grandparents take care of their grandchildren nearly every day, while in American it’s estimated that less than 20 percent of preschoolers are taken care of primarily by grandparents,” Dr. Hanley says.
Of course, many factors contribute to whether grandparents can spend time with young grandchildren regularly, including families living and working in different cities or states. Luckily, technologies such as video conversations over the Internet, as well as extended visits, can help families stay connected even when they can’t be together in the same location all the time.
“It seems to me that when children are young, conversations come easily,” Dr. Hanley says. “Preschoolers, for the most part, love to talk, and if we have ongoing relationship with them, they love sharing their day. During these early years, the bond and the tone of your relationship are established.”
Talking to Teens
“In our culture, the conversation problems come in as our grandchildren get older, and especially as they approach the teen years,” Dr. Hanley explains. “In the U.S., the ‘modern kid’ tends to be hooked into electronics, whether it’s TV, their cell phone or iPod with earphones. How’s that for conversation blockers?”
Dr. Hanley offers these three tips for connecting with grandchildren:
- Listen: “Listening is key … that’s how they know you care. Today’s families tend to live such fast-paced lifestyles, and most of the child’s day is organized for them – school or summer camps, music lessons, team sports, after school programs, etc. Kids need some unstructured, free time to unwind, to be themselves, to do what they like. This is where grandparents can shine: Find out their interests – what they really care about and who their friends are. Let them take the lead, and conversations will follow.”
- Be available: “Another key to letting grandchildren know you care is to be available … for a ride to the skateboard park, a day at the zoo, a trip to the mountains to play in the snow, or taking friends for a hike or biking on nature trails. In my experience, these kinds of activities not only build precious memories but open many doors for give-and-take conversations.”
- Engage in projects: “This is the best part! It doesn’t matter what the project or activity is as long as both of you enjoy it – be it designing or building a fort or tree house, putting on a fresh coat of paint, digging in the dirt, gardening, cooking together, walking your dog, or playing board games! I think ‘suggesting’ might be our role, but we have to let them do the ‘choosing.’ ”
By taking time to connect with grandchildren, you’ll both benefit, creating an ongoing bond and relationship that will enrich your lives in the years to come.