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8 Tips for Long-Distance Grandparents

How to Be a Long-Distance Grandparent

Different ZIP codes. Distant shores. These are the challenges to staying in touch and staying connected for every long-distance grandparent. Today, the mobile American family puts grandparents and grandchildren in different states, or even on different continents. No one is born knowing how to be a long-distance grandparent. A 2019 AARP survey found that more than half of American families are dealing with distances of more than 200 miles between grandparents and at least one grandchild.

Grandparents help define cultural identity and cultural heritage for their grandchildren. They play a key role in their lives. But can a long-distance grandparent truly connect with a long-distance grandchild? The good news is that lifelong attachments between grandparents and grandchildren can form even with relatively infrequent physical contact. The key is to stay in touch, stay connected, and use what’s available — apps, books and games for long-distance grandparents. Here are some essential tips for long-distance grandparents.

a senior man dancing with his granddaughter

1. Make the most of in-person visits.

Resolve to make an effort to visit your grandchildren each year. How often may depend on how far and how expensive each trip will be. It’s something for you to consider carefully. Ideally, the visits will be reciprocal, and sometimes you will be the host, sometimes the guest. When visiting your grandchildren’s homes, leave gifts and special reminders of you behind. For the times they come to you, be sure to have special toys that remain in your home, including some of their parents’ old toys, if possible.

a senior man using a tablet

2. Plan scheduled phone calls.

Arranging to speak with a grandchild ahead of time creates anticipation. For very young grandchildren, a bedtime conversation can create a pleasurable memory, and may even be helpful for parents putting them down for the evening. Older children will know that a call coming at a predetermined time is just for them.

What will you talk about? That depends. Before babies are a year old, they respond to voices they hear through the phone. You’ll want to use simple words and short sentences. Babies love repetition and often mimic the conversational patterns of adults even if they don’t use words. Toddlers can actually carry on their share of the conversation. But keep questions specific. Focus on what’s going on right now. If the family has pets, ask about them. School-age children will happily talk about their friends, sports, their favorite music or TV shows. As an empathetic grandparent, try to learn a bit about their interests; it will pay you back many times over.

an elderly couple and their adult daughter speaking on a phone using video chat

3. Take advantage of video calls.

Video chatting is easier than ever these days, and an enormous improvement over mere phone calls, especially when the little ones can’t yet carry on a conversation. Zoom and Skype are two of the most popular video chat apps used today and are among the easiest to use. The most common method of video chatting is FaceTime.

Video chat lets you do things together visually — simultaneously flipping through a picture book or reading one of the grandchild’s favorite books, sharing artwork, or “attending” a party virtually.

a senior couple sitting on the couch doing a crossword puzzle together

4. Don’t forget apps and games for long-distance grandparents.

You can play all kinds of online games with your grandchildren. There are many virtual games apps, such as House Party and Jackbox, which you can play over video chat.

There are a number of board game apps too. Some are free, while others must be purchased. Check with parents first so they can preview each app and give permission before you suggest it to your grandchildren. Here are links to common board game apps that most children love:

a senior woman using a smartphone

5. Books and reading for long-distance grandparents.

This can work in tandem with calling at bedtime, so you can read your grandchild a bedtime story. You can also record your voice reading their favorite stories. Children love recordings like this and quite often drift off to sleep to the sounds of their grandparents’ voices. For older grandchildren, you can simply read along together, naming the characters, discussing the plot, and wondering about the ending.

an elderly woman using a smartphone

6. Try texting and instant messaging.

Slightly older grandchildren keep in touch by sending texts, instant messages and digital photos. If you’re not sure how to use these technologies, have your grandchild teach you. All you need is a smartphone. Preteens and teenagers enjoy the feeling of sharing this knowledge and expertise with grandparents.

a closeup of a pair of older hands writing a letter

7. Write an old-fashioned letter.

Long-distance grandchildren will appreciate the novelty of receiving a hand-written letter in the mail and may even be coaxed to reply in kind. This is an opportunity for you to bring the past to life by telling stories and giving your grandchildren a better sense of their generational place in the family. They may also learn something about making decisions, making mistakes and moving on.

8. Do things together, from a distance.

Think about projects that extend over time that you can work on together. For example …

  • Write the first paragraph of a story and send it via email. Have the grandkids add a paragraph. Keep going back and forth until the story is finished.
  • Do the same thing with a progressive picture. Start a picture on a large piece of paper. Leave it unfinished with lots of room. Mail it to your grandchildren so they can add to it.
  • Start a planting from the same seeds in your separate gardens and compare notes as the plants grow.

Meeting the challenge of the long-distance grandparent.

Children are people with memories who reserve a special place in their hearts for grandparents. Your job is to build a strong relationship with your grandchildren that leads to a lifelong bond. Grandparents who live far away from their grandchildren face a particularly difficult challenge. But if you stay interested, connected and creative, you’ll open the door to mentoring and becoming the special person who’s “there” during times they care about and will remember the rest of their lives. 

Look to Querencia at Barton Creek for guidance and assistance with long-distance grandparenting or anything related to a rewarding senior living lifestyle. Our community has been named a Center for Successful Aging by the nationally renowned Masterpiece Living® initiative, and our culture of wellness offers innumerable options to lead a healthy, stress-free lifestyle. Feel free to reach out to us with questions.


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