5 Ways to Strengthen Your Bond with Older Grandchildren

Grandson and grandfather playing video games together.By Jill Brightman

As the parent of “older” kids – one a tween, and one a teen – I see daily their incremental physical and personality changes that signify to me, they are not babies anymore!

And, I fully expect (and reluctantly accept) that as my kids go headlong into their teenage years that they, as teens tend to do, will choose to spend the bulk of their time with their peers and have less interest in hanging out with mom and dad.

And their grandparents see and feel it too.

One concern my parents have often shared is that as my children get older, they will begin to lose interest and not want to spend as much time with grandma and grandpa as they used to. Luckily, my kids and my parents remain extremely close and still very much enjoy being together – an experience that is treasured by them both.  However, there may very well come a time when the busy schedule of a teenager, the distractions of rapidly advancing technology, and growing independence all conspire to make it more difficult to find the time to connect in the way that they once did.

While it is not unusual for tweens and teens interactions with their grandparents to become a bit more distant as they get older, this doesn’t mean that grandchildren do not need their grandparents.  It just means that the relationship may be changing – and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

This also means that as a grandparent, you may need to look to other ways to connect with your older grandchild and adjust how you communicate with them.

Here are a few tips to keep those grandparent-grandchild bonds strong and relationships meaningful as grandkids get older.

1. Meet them where they are. For example, realize that the best way to communicate with older kids may be in the ways they prefer to communicate rather than the way you prefer. Be open to accepting the methods of communication that older kids are more likely to be responsive to, which could include texting, video chats, or social media as opposed to emails or phone calls. At the same time, be aware and respectful of their boundaries and privacy in these mediums. (i.e. your grandchild may not feel comfortable having you follow them on Instagram.)

Similarly, get to know your grandchild’s individual interests (what type of music are they listening to or what is their favorite school subject, etc.) and favorite activities (sports, video games, etc.) to do at this stage in their lives. Find out what your grandchild loves to do and, when you can, participate in these activities with them, or simply be present in activities in which they are participants to show your support and true interest and curiosity in their interests.

AdobeStock_580613721-300x2002. Use technology to your advantage. There is no getting around the fact that teens and tweens spend a lot of time on their phones and electronic devices. They are intuitively tech savvy – after all, they have known of nothing else from the moment they were born!  So, it’s not hard to understand why some grandparents may feel uneasy or even intimidated about using technology, feeling that it takes away from their ability to relate to their grandchildren. (And, yes, constantly checking messages on a phone can really be a distraction to any conversation!)

But technology has an upside too. It can be a great tool in maintaining connections with older grandkids. For instance,

  • as mentioned earlier, technology can enable you to communicate with your grandchildren in ways that they are more accustomed to and therefore, more effectively. Take advantage of texting, Instagram, Facetime, Skype, or other platforms to keep the lines of communication open.
  • use computers, tablets, or phones to play online games together or watch videos of mutual interest.
  • use technology as a teaching moment. If your grandchild is a master on an iPhone (and what teen isn’t!?) let them help you learn. Ask for their advice about helpful apps and guidance on the latest electronic devices and learn something new at the same time!

3. Make spending time together a priority and set aside time in your schedule and in theirs. Whether it’s a weekly call or visit, or a monthly dinner get-together or a ladies-only get-away day, find a way to schedule each other in your lives – and stick to it. Be as respectful of your teenage grandchildren’s busy schedules and day-to-day stressors as they should be of yours.

AdobeStock_715052559-300x1684. Let them know you love them. Sounds obvious, right? As kids get older, their lives are changing so rapidly that they can get a little lost in all the new experiences, so it’s important to remind your grandchildren that you love them unconditionally and to show them you care. Be a person they can turn to that will listen to them, offer sound advice, and not judge.

Also, it isn’t necessary to show your love through extravagant gifts or grand actions aimed to impress an impressionable teen, but rather it’s the understated, meaningful gestures that they will remember.  A special hand-written note or care package of encouragement, making their favorite dessert, teaching them a new skill like gardening, or collecting seashells together, or simply passing on family stories and traditions will be the types of “little” things they will appreciate the most.

5. Try not to take it personally. After all, this is probably not your first rodeo when it comes to being around the world of teens!  You likely remember this stage with your own kids and realize that young people are juggling a lot and may be preoccupied with other priorities in their lives – ones that may not always include you.  So, try to approach it all with understanding, humor, and some humility.

While you may miss the “good old days” of playing with them as toddlers and being the center of their world, you can still have a wonderful new and more grown-up relationship with your older grandchild and share your excitement for their growth, interest in the person they are becoming, and above all, continue to love them in your own special and unique ways.  Remember, they still need you as much as you need them! The ways in which you connect with your grandchild may change and evolve, but the strength of your bond can remain and flourish.

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