BUILDING THE BOND
Share meaningful moments with your grandchildren
Creators News Service
Holding the baby might be the first joy you experience as a new grandparent, but the real fun comes later as children grow and the bond between you deepens. The question is how to turn the time you spend together into a meaningful relationship, and the experts say it's easier than you might think.
"It's about spending time and following the child's lead," said Jim Fay, co-founder of the Love and Logic Institute and co-author of "Grandparenting With Love and Logic" ($16, Love and Logic Press). "Ask him what he wants to do and then follow along. His parents are probably too busy to do this with him."
Fay said his toddler grandson's favorite pastime when he comes to visit is to push a lightweight vacuum cleaner around the rugs, which earns his grandparents' praise and gives him a sense of making a contribution.
"The key is shared experiences, but they can be simple," said Amy Goyer, senior vice president of outreach for grandparents.com. She said it's important to consider age, personality, interests, attention span, abilities and skills. For young children, a visit to a boat dock or a fish market or a walk around the block can fill the bill.
"Don't plan an arts and crafts activity that might be beyond their developmental skills," she said. "They'll just get frustrated and you won't make a good memory."
She said it's also important to choose an activity you'll both enjoy.
"Think about it from the child's point of view: You might love the natural history museum, but the child might be bored," she said. "But make sure it's fun for you, too. Try to find a middle point -- a musical group you'll both enjoy or a video game you both like to play."
Goyer, a former music therapist, advised adding music -- listening, singing, dancing or making up songs -- to whatever else you're doing. And she said very often the best entertainment is right beneath your nose.
"Look around at the things you take for granted in your environment that will be a treasure-trove for your grandchildren," she said. Her favorite memory is of looking through old family photos with her grandmother. She also suggested hauling out your jewelry box for a game of dress-up, staging a play or playing charades.
"Think seasonal," she said. "Holidays are great excuses for craft activities, parties or educational outings to find out more about the occasion."
Fay suggested doing chores together as a great way to spark conversation with older children. "Work on your car and ask them to help out," he said. "They can learn about tools, and you'll be able to talk about all kinds of things that might be uncomfortable in a face-to-face situation."
He said cards, chess and other board games are also good conversation-starters.
"Fix a meal together," he said. "Even little kids can help make macaroni and cheese, and they feel great about it."
As children get older, teach them about your interests -- bowling, tennis, gardening or other hobbies. And ask them what they can teach you about computers, iPods and cell phones. "Teaching each other is magic," Fay said.
Both experts mentioned volunteering together.
"Take a volunteer vacation or work with Habitat for Humanity," Goyer said. "This instills character and values as it creates a bonding experience."
But how do you stay connected with grandchildren who live far away?
"Electronics such as text messaging are going to help," Fay said. "A connection doesn't have to be long to be meaningful. An e-mail can be as simple as 'I love you. I'm thinking about you. I hope you're having a great day.'"
A Web camera and Skype account are another way to keep in touch. Fay also suggested sending cards or letters in which you tell the kids about yourself.
"Adults often just ask them questions, and they feel interrogated," he said. "Start your letter with 'Guess what I did today!'"
Goyer said to capitalize on the time you do have together. Involve the children in planning a visit, and make a scrapbook of your adventures. When the child goes home, make color copies to send so that you can rehash what you did over the phone or in e-mails and keep the memories alive.
Still wondering about what to do when the grandkids come to visit? Here are some more possibilities:
* Create an African safari with stuffed animals.
* Put together a train set and build a village.
* Paint on the windows with washable markers made specifically for glass.
* Stage a scavenger or treasure hunt.
* On a rainy day, have an indoor picnic.
* Make up stories with the child as the main character. You start, and then let him or her finish.
* Decorate a pillowcase with fabric markers.
* Interview each other with a video camera.
* Have a tea party with hot cider, finger sandwiches and cookies. Use the good china.
* Camp out overnight in the family room.