Old man in blue polo shirt carrying girl in white and pink floral dress

The bond between a grandparent and a grandchild can be a beautiful and unbreakable thing. Be it for words of advice, general silliness, role modeling, or that extra source of love, building a relationship with your grandchild is one of the best things you can do in your older years.

As a grandparent, you have an amazing opportunity to support your grandchild’s healthy development. You can:

  • Provide a sense of cultural heritage and family history
  • Make them feel safe
  • Teach them new skills
  • Give them your focused time
  • Play with them
  • Take the pressure off their parents
  • Show unconditional love

Parental love can be complicated, bound up with hopes, expectations and ambitions. Grandparent love is a little simpler. Grandparents understand that human lives seldom go in a straight-line trajectory towards success and because of this, they can help children become less discouraged when they face hardships.

Grandparents are an extra layer of protection for a child. Every family needs help sometimes, and grandparents can be the ones who make sure children get the care and attention they need at stressful times. Grandparents can fill the gaps in a child’s care and can send big messages of love with even the smallest of gestures. For a child, it’s about knowing that someone has their back and that if you’re needed, you’ll be there.

Fostering the grandparent-grandchild relationship

Research shows that the middle generation is of vital importance in determining closeness between a grandparent and their grandchild. When grandparents and their adult children are close, closeness with grandchildren comes more naturally and easily.

Other factors that contribute to closeness are:

Geographic distance

Not surprisingly, geographic distance is one of the strongest predictors of a close relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t be close to your grandchild if you’re distanced from one another.

Face-to-face interaction is hugely important (there’s really no substitute), but technology has made it possible to foster a bond no matter how far apart you are. Many grandparents interact with their grandchildren on a daily or weekly basis with platforms such as FaceTime, Skype, and Messenger. Older children love to receive text messages, as long as they’re not too frequent. Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram are also good ways to stay in touch with tweens, teens, and young adults.

The bottom line is that if you want a relationship with your grandchild, there are ways to bridge the physical distance.

Frequency of contact

Grandparents who stay in regular contact with their grandchildren are generally a lot closer to their grandkids than grandparents who come in and out of their lives. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how frequent that contact should be, however.

If you are part of a close-knit family, you may anticipate that your child will invite you to be a regular part of their home life. This is not always the case though, and it’s important that you respect and discuss the level of involvement your child wants you to have. Communicate your wants early and decide what’s best for your family dynamic.

Role within the family

When grandparents provide child care for grandchildren or become actual or surrogate parents to their grandchildren, they have a greater than average opportunity to bond. Not every grandparent is comfortable with stepping into parental role shoes, however, so if you’d prefer to be a “regular” grandparent, that’s okay. Research shows that even if you only play with your grandchildren, your frequency of play is enough to foster bonding.

Type of attention

Parents are inundated with ‘urgent’ day-to-day business that can get in the way of providing undivided attention to their child. If you have time on your hands to relax and just be, then do this with your grandkids.

Undivided attention means doing nothing other than being in that moment with your grandchild. Positive attention is when you respond to your grandchild with warmth and interest. It’s a combination of these two types of attention that will help your grandchild feel valued and secure. Undivided and positive attention is invaluable to your grandchild’s self-image and development and yet it takes very little effort. It’s simply enjoying and embracing the everyday moments.

Ways to bond with your grandchild/ren

If you have multiple grandchildren, invest in individual time with each grandchild. Each grandchild is unique and will have different interests, so be sure to provide them with quality one-on-one time.

Allowing your grandchildren to interact one-on-one with you means they will hold special memories that only you two share. These experiences are moments they will cherish forever. When you have one-on-one time, consider:

Establishing traditions

Think back to your own childhood and draw on the memories that you still hold dear. Offering the same experiences that you loved as a child or that you did when your kids were little turns your memories into traditions that can be passed down for future generations. If you have a tradition that never changes, it will be something that your grandchild looks forward to too.

Getting out of the house

Planning a fun activity to the park, sharing a milkshake alfresco, or simply walking in nature is a perfect way to run off some energy and bond with your grandchild. Even going to the grocery store can be an exciting adventure, especially if you end the trip by letting them pick out a sweet treat or toy.

Making things

Whether it’s playdough, LEGO, a cake, or a painting, making things with your grandchild is a nostalgic activity you both can enjoy. Talk and tell stories as you go and communicate messages to your grandchild without sounding preachy. Telling stories while you teach a child new things is a wonderful way to bond and will play an important role in your grandchild’s cognitive development.

Doing what you can

In today’s world, families can be scattered all over the country and days can be jam-packed with school and work schedules that interfere with regular grandparent time. Do what you can and if all else fails, keep in touch with old-school letters. Kids may be experiencing a different era, but they still love receiving mail in the post!