Sharing a close and genuine relationship with a family member can seem like the easiest thing in the world. The warm portrayals of families around us in advertisements and on television can make it seem like if our own relationships don’t look like that, there is something wrong with us. However, building and maintaining strong relationships can take a lot of effort from both people and there are a lot of barriers that can make deep connections very difficult.
Strong relationships between grandparents and grandchildren can be especially hard to maintain because the years between you can make a serious obstacle. Miscommunication and a lack of understanding is fostered by your age gap and can affect the bond negatively. Additionally, relationships with children can be difficult for adults, in general, because by nature they are a little one-sided. Children are not able to cognitively make the same effort towards strengthening the bond as the adult, so most of the work will likely land on you.
Here are some real ways to strengthen the relationship you share with your grandchildren:
Listen to them – I mean really listen
Children are people, too, and one of the easiest way to connect with any person is simply by listening to them. Taking time out of your day to sit down with your grandkid (or giving them a call) to ask them some questions about their life will make them feel listened to and you will be able to learn more about them.
Pro tip: make sure that you retain the information they tell you as much as possible. When your grandkids have to repeat themselves over and over – they will feel like the things they say aren’t important to you.
Make one-on-one time
Family gatherings can be a crazy spectacle of everyone rushing to greet everyone else and trying to cram as much food in as possible. So, if you usually only see your grandkids at a family event – maybe it’s time to make a little special time for them. Take them to get some lunch or to the park or to the zoo. Without any other family there, you can both focus on each other and build a stronger bond. Start this as soon as possible so that it is comfortable for both of you.
Pro tip: choose an activity that will allow you to interact. Taking them to a movie can be fun, but you won’t get a lot of time to learn about each other.
Do a project together
Sometimes, interacting one-on-one with your grandkid can be a little awkward for both of you. There can be some uncomfortable silence or you might find that you are interested in talking about different topics. Doing a project can fix this because it gives you both something to focus on. Ask them what they might be interested in doing. Maybe they want to build a model ship together or do some painting. Make sure it is something you can both find interesting so neither of you gets bored too quickly.
Pro tip: teaching can be an incredible bonding agent. Teach them how to do something or let them teach you and you will find even more to talk about and enjoy about each other.
Get involved in things that are important to them
It doesn’t matter if your grandkid is really interested in theater, volunteering, or punk rock. Go. Go to their recital, their game. Go to their talent show, their birthday, their graduation. Cheer them on for their walk-a-thon or, better yet, walk with them. Being a presence in their lives (especially on those big days) will mean more to them than you think it will. Even if they don’t say so. Even if they tell you not to go –being there will mean you care and that is something they will remember.
Pro tip: tell them afterwards how proud you were of them and never make them feel like you were there under obligation – no matter how bored you were. Never let them know. Remind them how amazing and important they are.
Grandkids can be tough. They don’t always have the same filter or the same manners or the same understanding as you expect. Be patient with them and never be afraid to correct them or tell them “no”. Being overly nice, buying gifts, or giving them treats because you want them to like you will not strengthen your relationship. Most children will see right through these things over time and, while they can be a quick fix, they will not build the same connection that meaningful conversation and dedicated time will.