One of the most important relationships we have in our lives is the one with our grandparents. Children learn how to love, play, interact and resolve conflict through the bond they form with both their parents and grandparents. From the moment children are born, they want the love and attentiveness of their parents and grandparents. As they receive this attention, it helps strengthen their own confidence and develop their own identities. As children mature, the bond strengthens through shared experiences and by spending quality time together. The grandparent’s role is even more special because less time is filled disciplining and correcting and leaves more time to focus on building a strong relationship and spending time together. Here are some easy ways to strengthen your grandparent-grandchild bond.
The simplest way to bond with your grandchild is to spend time playing with them. Play comes naturally to children and is a great way to spend quality time with them. Play teaches them life skills such as how to share, resolve conflict and how to follow rules. By playing peek-a-boo, tossing a ball in the backyard, playing house or making crafts, you are bonding with your grandchild because you are sharing in his or her joy of those activities. “My son would always open up when we played catch. We had some great conversations playing together,” Angela Leever, mom of three, says. Playtime gives your child a safe place to share their feelings and express worries. By spending time doing what they enjoy, you are showing them they are important and that you are there for them.
Find A Mutual Interest
What is your grandchild interested in? If your grandchild enjoys reading, create a two-person book club and discuss the books as you read. If your grandchild loves football, make game night a family event and cheer on your team. If your grandchild is interested in dinosaurs, visit a museum. Since lifelong friends grow from playing sports or participating in activities together, the same can be assumed about grandparent-grandchild bonding. If you truly enjoy activities together, a stronger bond will naturally form. “When they show interest in a sport, music, games, hobby or even a TV show, I will find free time to do it together,” says mother-of- three Michelle Lyons. “I have found that while they are doing something they enjoy, they are more likely to talk about other things in their lives.”
Tell Them You Love Them And Why You Do
It is likely your grandchildren know you love them, but how often do you tell them? Saying “I love you” has powerfully positive effects on your grandchild. “My kids and I have something we do in the car,” Pricella Edwords says. “I reach back and lightly squeeze their legs three times which means ‘I love you.’ They know and will often say ‘I love you, too, mom.’” Don’t just say you love them, but also tell them why. Spell out your emotions by explaining: I love you because you are so fun to be around or because you care about others. Words of affirmation are powerful tools to give grandkids the self-confidence they need to face the world. Similarly, snuggling, hugs, kisses, pats on the back or even tickling and wrestling give your grandchildren the physical affection and bonding they crave.
Make Them A Priority
Put down your phone and talk to your grandchildren. Show them that they are your No. 1 priority. If you have a task that needs to be done, ask him or her to let you finish it and when it’s complete, give your grandchild your full attention. “We read together before bed long after the storybook years,” Amy Cameron, mom of three, says. “Books spark discussion and debate and it’s an experience they will have forever.” If you have multiple grandchildren, it can be hard to spend one-on-one time with them. Set aside time to go on a “date” with each of your grandchildren so you can connect and check-in with what they are doing in their lives. Ask them open-ended questions and then listen to the answers. When you commit to making your grandchildren a priority, they will feel important and it will help to strengthen your relationship.
Create A Helper
For the busy grandparent, finding the time to make quality moments is a daunting task in addition to all your other responsibilities. To ease this, try incorporating them into your daily tasks. While you are cooking dinner, doing dishes or folding laundry, ask your grandchild to help and start up a conversation. Some kids may bond with their grandparents over fixing the car, painting, gardening or any household task. Not only are you creating a great opportunity to spend time together but you are also teaching them life skills and a good work ethic. Amy Siebert, mom of two, suggests talking to your kids while you are in the car. “We spend a lot of time driving between activities. That’s where our best conversations happen,” she says. Carrie Miller says, “Our most meaningful conversations happen before bedtime. It’s always worth the extra time, even when I’m tired from a long day.”
Love Them No Matter What
One of the best ways to build a healthy bond with your grandchildren is to let them know you will love them no matter what. You communicate this by listening to their problems, offering advice when appropriate and then respecting their decisions — even if it will have negative consequences. If your grandchild makes a mistake, let him or her know you are there to lend love and support through the challenges that may be faced. “I’m vulnerable with my children and tell them when I mess up and apologize when I do,” says Sarah Clark, mom of two. “I ask them to do the same for me. This authenticity creates a closer bond because they understand I’m not just an authoritarian parent figure.” Everyone needs to know they have someone in their corner, especially on bad days. Barb Shapiro, mom of six, says “Validate their feelings and truly listen when they talk. This lets them know how important they are to me and it’s not hard to do.” Most of these ideas are not profound or difficult to do, they just take a little planning and intentionality. Over time, without even trying, the bonds will be built and your grandchildren will have a foundation of love and support as they mature.
Sarah Lyons is a Midwestern mom of six kids, including triplets. She enjoys bonding with her kids over reading, sports, movies and games.