We shouldn't underestimate the importance of keeping those family networks strong, says board-certified psychiatrist Grant Brenner, M.D. "The holidays are challenging for families spread apart over long distances," he told SheKnows. "It's too easy to let the days go by, getting lost in the hectic rush and heady emotions of the holidays, and kind of forget about the people closest to us."
Brenner recommends communicating with loved ones on key days (like Thanksgiving and Christmas) and setting aside more time to talk on days when you aren't celebrating.
Here are some ideas to keep your kids in touch with family who can't be there with you in person during the holidays.
1. A handwritten letter
Sometimes, the traditional methods are the best. "Handwritten letters go a long way in terms of staying connected with long-distance relatives," licensed family therapist Katie Ziskind told SheKnows. "A handwritten letter is super different and much more personal than a typed email. A child can see her grandparent's handwriting and smell their perfume as they open the letter."
If your kids are old enough, encourage them to reply to any letters they receive from family, and it could become part of their lives all year round, not just in the holiday season. Help your kids get excited about the letter-writing process by letting them choose cute children’s stationery from a website like Shutterfly or TinyPrints, get their name or initials printed on them and use monogrammed stickers to add a finishing touch.
2. A fun package
Who doesn't like getting a package through the mail? It doesn't really matter what's inside your "box of love" — what does matter is that your kids have taken the time to put together something special. If you have a few children, let each of them choose a gift for your relative to put inside the box. A personalized holiday decoration or handprint pottery made at a local studio gives your family a keepsake to treasure and helps them feel part of your kids' milestones. Encourage your kids to add festive artwork, photos of medals and special occasions, and copies of any certificates they've received in recent months. It's so much more fun to open than a regular holiday gift.
3. A video call
There are tons of free apps that let you make video calls over the internet, but our favorite for children is Messenger Kids. Besides offering safety features — for example, kids can only chat with contacts preapproved by parents — it has interactive masks, reactions and sound effects that make talking extra fun.
You can use Messenger Kids on a smartphone or tablet. If you're really ambitious, you could hook it up to a TV screen, letting you enjoy simultaneous parties for a truly virtual event. "Set it up so it works well, for example sitting at a table on all sides of the virtual party so you feel like you are all sitting together, and enjoy being close even when you are far away," says Brenner.
4. Recordable storybook
A recordable storybook lets kids share story time with family, even when they can't be there in person. Hallmark offers a great selection of holiday-themed recordable storybooks (featuring music, too) for all ages, including You Light Up Christmas, Great Joy: A Book of Christmas Blessings and the classic The Night Before Christmas, as well as books designed specifically for grandparents to read.
This is a great option for a child who doesn't have the patience (or vocabulary) for a video call. Hearing grandma or grandpa's voice reading a bedtime story helps your child feel emotionally connected to them and keeps faraway relatives in their thoughts.
5. A personalized photo album
Personal photo books make a great gift, and the process of putting one together is a fun way to keep long-distance family at the forefront of your kids’ minds over the holiday season. Websites like Mixbook, Picaboo and Snapfish make it easy to design and produce your own photo book on a computer or smartphone. Give your photo book a holiday theme by dressing your kids up in cute festive costumes, or feature your favorite family photos from the past year. You can also add text to the pages of the book, such as personal messages from each child.
However you choose to stay connected to far-away family during the holidays, your relatives — and kids — will thank you for it.
This post is sponsored by Messenger Kids.