Staying in Touch with Long-Distance Grandparents

Grandfather holding babyGrandfather holding babyLast week my daughter started first grade. Our new morning routine challenged us that first day, but we managed to get in the car with a few extra minutes to spare, even after a round of first day photos. On the way there, we talked about what new friends she'd meet and how much she'd learn this year until I realized this was one of those days that called for some grandparent celebration. I called my mom in New York and put her on speaker phone, giving her a brief update before she took the cue and ran with it, using her most exuberant grandma voice to offer encouragement and celebrate my daughter's milestone.

Keeping grandparents an important part of our kids' childhood is challenging for us-we live in Florida and our families live in the Midwest. But both my husband and I have fond memories of spending time with our grandparents, and we work hard to keep the distance from affecting a good relationship between our kids and our parents. There's even more reason now to encourage these bonds though as new studies from the Institute of Aging at Boston College show that later in life, close relationships between grandparents and their adult grandchildren are associated with fewer depression symptoms for both the elderly and their grandchildren. In fact, these studies reveal that the closer the bond, the better their overall psychological health was.

Related: 7 ways to stay connected with Grandma in the digital age

Building these relationships unfortunately requires a lot more effort than most for our family as we don't get to see grandmas and grandpas nearly as much as we'd like. So how can we nurture these relationships with distance challenges?

It's taken some creativity and thoughtfulness for our family, but we're learning to use our resources from memories of the past to today's technology to weave close grandparent relationships, even with the distance. Compiled from some of our own traditions and some from friends who also live far from relatives, here are some ideas for building meaningful lasting bonds with grandparents who live far away.

Photos An obvious tip but one easily forgotten, having photos of grandparents displayed is a great way to make them familiar faces, especially for babies. When my daughter was just learning to talk, we kept photos of all family members near and far taped to the bottom of the refrigerator at her eye level. We played games, calling names out and waiting for her to find them. Sending regular photos to grandparents (or texting them) is also a great way to make them feel like they aren't missing anything.

Connect to Place Do your kids know where your parents live? Toddlers can quickly connect to where grandparents live if you teach them to locate their state on a map and tell them all about grandma's home. My daughter loves locating Michigan, Chicago and New York on a US map and, from the time she was very little, knew about a Midwest fall and that it snows where her grandparents live. Last year, her poppa sent an envelope of leaves, photos of colored trees and a letter to her kindergarten class so they too could connect with a different place in the country. The bonus? My daughter proudly connected with her grandpa through the experience.

Skype Story Reading We just started this one after hearing how much friends enjoyed the experience. One night a week, after the kids are in their pajamas, we'll connect with my mom in New York through Skype and she'll read my kids their bedtime story. Last night's first session had my girls completely enthralled as my mom turned the pages and did all the character voices. "It's like you're in my living room," she said. God bless technology.

Display their Talents Whether it's wood-carving or knitting, teach your kids the value of handmade goods from grandparents. We display Grandpa's photography in our kids' rooms (and tell them he took those photos), and we make note every time we put on one of my mom's crocheted sweaters that Grandma put a lot of love into it just for us.

Find Something in Common Once we realized my daughter and her Grandpa George shared a love for nature and science, the two of them formed a special bond. He purchased a National Geographic Kids subscription for her, they send pictures back and forth of treasures they find in nature, and discussing science has become their secret little language. Look for areas of interest that might bond your child and grandparent, and foster these when you can.

Tell Their Stories Telling your children stories about their grandparents-where they grew up, how they were raised, how they met each other, etc.-can do more than make them well known to your kids. Studies from Emory University reveal that knowing stories about your family increases self-esteem and creates more of a sense of control in a child's life. Books are great, but try trading a book some night for a real bedtime story-one from your parents' childhood.

Opportunity to Fix Something Next time your toddler is crying over a boo-boo or your little one is anxious to go to the doctor, give a grandparent the opportunity to step in and help by calling them and asking them to talk to your child. "Why don't we call Grandma and see if she can make you feel better?" is a great way to send the message not only to your child that grandparents are important but to your parents that they are needed and that their advice and support is valued across the miles.

-By Kelle Hampton

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