My family has always loved Broadway musicals from “Sound of Music” and “Annie Get Your Gun” to the more contemporary “Wicked.” But now that I’m the CEO of GrandCamp Adventures, a company I started to help nurture the grandparent and grandchild relationship, I find the “The King and I” comes to mind most frequently.
I’m often asked by grandparents for tips on how to nurture their connection with their grandchildren, and parents ask me how to help nudge the grandparent and grandchild relationship. I tell them to take a cue from Anna, from “The King and I.” Her “Getting to Know You” lyrics apply to grandparents and grandchildren as much as to teacher and pupils.
I have found that the best environment for developing this rapport is one where grandparent and grandchild do something together.
No Parents Allowed
Parents who recognize the importance of letting these relationships flourish on its own soon find they are benefiting all three generations:
- Grandparents gain an opportunity to pass on their legacy of knowledge and traditions without the filter of the parent generation.
- Parents enjoy time to pursue things without responsibility for their children.
- Grandchildren discover that their grandparents not only know a lot, but are also fun to be with.
Magic moments between grandparent and grandchild are the spontaneous result of shared experiences: experiences as simple as creating a secret handshake, cooking together or hiking a local trail. Many grandparents read storybooks to their grandchildren as a way to start conversations. Board games, card games and activities like treasure hunts are all fun, easy, ways to share time and get to know one another.
Fun, Frequency, Familiarity
By keeping a few things in mind, grandparents can have a great rapport with their grandchildren:
- Fun: Grandparents need to make sure that the things they do with their grandchildren are fun for both generations.
- Frequency: These relationships need to be maintained over time through regular phone/Skype calls, visits and mail.
- Familiarity: Grandparents need to encourage their grandchildren in the give and take of revealing likes and dislikes, favorite places and other things that form a true basis for knowing one anther.
For most grandparents, it’s natural to be more involved with the grandchildren when they are very small. As the children get older and more independent — and very busy with friends and activities — it takes a real effort to maintain the relationship. Here are our recommendations to grandparents and parents:
Tips for Parents:
- Bolster the grandparents’ image by telling the children about fun/interesting things from your experience with them.
- Encourage children to send artwork, recordings, etc. to their grandparents.
- Plan ahead for activities that you think the grandparents and grandchildren would enjoy together.
- Help the children learn how to email pictures to their grandparents.
- When practical, invite the grandparents to the children’s events, and make them aware of what’s going on, even if it is impractical for them to attend.
- When grandparents are visiting, schedule time for them to be alone with the grandchildren, either one-on-one or grandparents with all the grandchildren.
Tips for Grandparents:
- Send pictures from the parents’ childhoods to the grandchildren at the appropriate time. For example, “Here’s what your mother wore for Halloween when she was five.” “Here’s a picture of your dad on his first bike.”
- Don’t leave the success of your time with the grandchildren to chance: take them to interesting places, introduce them to new foods, show them how to make something, share fun jokes, stories and songs.
- Call the grandchildren often, but keep it short, sweet and relevant. “Just wanted to know how your baseball game went today?” Talk about one or two things and then say “good-bye” before they get bored.
- Develop a sense of timing. Don’t get upset if your grandchild is busy when you are free.
- Treat your grandchildren as individuals, gaining their respect but also giving them yours.
Solid grandparent and grandchild connections are all about getting to know and love one another.
It is a matter of fun, frequency and familiarity — all great ingredients for any long-term relationship.
Patricia Babuka is the CEO and co-founder of GrandCamp Adventures, the creator of entertaining and educational storybooks, music, games and activities carefully designed to stimulate conversation and connect families through the grandparent and grandchild relationship.