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How to help kids really know their grandparents -- regardless of where they live

Beth Sanders is the founder of LifeBio.com and author of the Memory Journal. In 1993, she interviewed her own grandmother and realized that she never knew her as well as she could or should until that day. Her passion for family history ...

New connections to the olden days

When I was a kid, all we had to do was walk across the street to go visit grandma and grandpa. In fact, grandpa had a barber shop on our street, Loveland Avenue, where I got my haircut. Grandma enjoyed gardening and cooking, so I could usually find her in the backyard weeding the flower beds or in the kitchen baking a cake. Today, things aren't always so simple.
Girl with her grandparents


We live in a very mobile society, so it's not uncommon for grandparents to be states or countries away from their grandchildren. They may have retired in a distant place, or, perhaps, college or work caused your family to move away from your hometown. But even if we aren't right around the corner from each other, there are still many ways that our children can connect -- at any age -- with their grandparents.Here are three tips for building a strong bond between children/teens and grandparents:

1. Encourage letter writing.

Letters may have been replaced by email most of the time, but there is still nothing like getting mail in the mailbox for kids or grandparents! Encourage the grandparents to regularly send mail addressed to each child -- once a month would be great.Ask them to tell a story about themselves when they were little in each letter-- they can even start with something like, "Once upon a time, when he was a little boy, grandpa had a bicycle…" This could make for a great bedtime story -- and be sure to save the series of handwritten letters which will become a precious keepsake.Grandparents who live far away will also appreciate a letter containing their grandchild's school artwork, that first A of the school year, or a letter in the child's own handwriting.

2. Take phone conversations to a new level.

Instead of the normal everyday small talk (school, weather, sports, etc.), equip your kids with a special question to ask their grandparents and a piece of paper or notebook to write down their answers -- or conference call/webcam technology could help you record the phone call.Here are a few topic ideas to get them started:

  1. What was your neighborhood like when you were a kid?
  2. What games did you like to play when you were my age?
  3. Did you play any sports in school?
  4. What was a day like for you at school?
  5. What did it look like from the outside and inside?
  6. How did you get to school? What was your favorite subject?
  7. Did you ever get in trouble with your mom and dad? What happened?
  8. Do you have a motto that you live by? Maybe it is something that you think about that helps you get through good times and bad times.
  9. Tell me about your grandparents. (This question actually helps the grandchild learn something about their great-great grandparents!)

The point of asking the questions is that pretty soon the grandchildren can actually see grandma or grandpa in a new way-- they once were children too! This can deepen their relationship because grandchildren will then be able to relate better. Also, grandparents love to share their stories if they know that the grandchild would actually like to listen.

3. Plan vacations or long weekends together.

This summer, my husband and I included my parents -- who, because we live four hours apart, only get to see my two kids every couple of months -- in a week-long vacation to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. The trip involved over 2,000 miles of driving.My son and grandpa actually figured out a way to play baseball in the car! Mom enjoyed license plate Bingo and the wax museum as much as the kids did. We had plenty of time for storytelling and questions about outhouses, farming, and life before TV. We even learned, for the first time, about a relative named Waldo who had disappeared years ago (now "Where's Waldo?" has new meaning for my kids). The trip was unforgettable for all of us -- there's nothing like a crowded minivan and hours of driving to bring a family together!As you consider how your family can connect over long distances, keep in mind that YOU, as the parent, are a vital link between your parents and your children -- so of course, all of these ideas will involve you. It's important to be intentional about making this connection, or they may never know each other in a deep or lasting way. It's critical to build relationships to last for generations -- and that involves new conversations, telling stories, and sharing more than just photo albums.

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