Connecting with your grandkids can be tough.

They’re always on their phones, there can be weird family dynamics, and although you love them to absolute pieces, it can be difficult to figure out where you all fit in each other’s lives.

It’s Rebecca on the blog today talking from the millennial’s perspective about how grandparents can connect with their grandchildren in real, meaningful ways. I’ve been lucky enough to have grandparents who took a real interest in me and really poured into my life. Plus, as a psychology student who loves family psychology research, I recognize the importance of intergenerational family connections! So I wanted to give you 10 things that grandparents can do to help them connect with their grandchildren, whether they are 5 or 25 years old.

Let’s go:

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1. Take time individually with your grandkids

Grandparents and grandkids often get into a “Christmas and birthdays” routine where the only interaction they have is at big family gatherings. So break that cycle! Decide that every month, you want to take a different grandchild out for lunch, perhaps, or have a card game tournament with just the grandparents and grandkids.

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Katie and our grandpa

2. Get involved in what your grandkids are already doing

My sister was obsessed with figure skating when she was a kid. We didn’t have a TV. So my grandma started having Katie and my cousin Jessica over to watch figure skating whenever it was on. They loved it, it was a great time for the three of them to bond, and it gave them something to talk about!

Look for hobbies, interests, or activities that your grandkids are involved in that you can find a common interest in. Then make it easy to spend time doing those things together.

3. Help your grandkids get involved in your hobbies and passions

My grandma and her friend gave me and my sister quilting lessons when we were kids, and my grandma and I still bond over that today! In fact, she sewed me a gorgeous quilt for my wedding present and it meant so much more because we had shared that for so many years. That same grandma also does baking days with my cousin Jessica to get ready for Christmas!

My nana taught me how to knit, and then when she got involved with teaching women in Africa how to knit, guess what we started doing? Sorting yarn with her to put together packages for the women she was going to see.

Give your grandkids an opportunity to get to know you. Let them get a taste of what your life is like, what you enjoy doing. They love you, so let them enjoy life with you!

4. Don’t be afraid to be yourself

There are a lot of grandparents who seem to think that their grandkids will only want to spend time with them if they’re cool and hip. Now, as someone who has very cool and hip grandparents (and is pretty sure they will be reading this), I can tell you that age is not a problem.

At Katie’s wedding, one of my grandparents’ friends named Marie (who has always been an honorary member of the Gregoire clan) was the life of the dance floor–she was in a group with about five 19 to 21-year-olds dancing her heart out! Our friends were still talking about how much fun she was the next day!

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Grandma, Marie, Katie and me at a photo booth at my wedding

I see so many grandparents who are self-conscious about their age when it comes to their grandkids. But let me tell you: if you are able to simply be yourself with your grandkids, whether that means teaching them quilting or doing The Twist to a Spice Girls’ song, the age difference really does fade. We just want to get to know you!

5. Watch how you talk about their parents

One of the biggest pressure points between grandkids and their grandparents is when the grandparents aren’t able to speak appropriately about the parents.

Kids love their parents immensely. So if your daughter married a man you dislike and has three children with him, it is inappropriate to make snide comments about him in front of his kids. It just is. If you have personal issues with a kid’s parents, they are completely off the table. So focus on learning to love the people who are difficult to love, even if just for the sake of your grandkids. Besides, who knows–maybe by staying very involved with your grandkids, you’ll be the good influence in their life.

6. Have grace for generational differences

There are cultural expectations and traditions that are simply different between grandparents’ and their grandchildren’s generations. When grandkids act in a way that would be rude to your generation, ask yourself–“are they actually being unthoughtful or ungrateful, or is this a cultural difference? Is it worth dying on this hill, or can I address this calmly?”

For example, my generation doesn’t do thank you cards. So if your grandkid doesn’t send you a thank you card for the presents you sent at Christmas, getting mad and guilt-tripping them likely isn’t going to help the relationship. But if they don’t say thank you at all, a simple, “I would appreciate if you called to say thank you after I send you a gift. It helps me know that you received it, that you liked it, and it gives us a chance to connect” also gets the point across. Not sending a thank you card doesn’t mean they aren’t grateful. So have grace for generational differences.

7. Look for opportunities to help your grandkids with practical things

There’s a reason “#adulting” is such a big trend right now. A lot of young adults have no idea how to run a home, have no idea how to balance a budget, and have no idea how to effectively cook on a budget.

Our generation wasn’t trained in these things as well as previous generations have been. If your grandkids are constantly stressed out about small, everyday things, offer to help. Go to their apartment and cook with them for a few hours, creating a week’s worth of freezer meals. Give them some of your favourite, budget-friendly 20 minute recipes. Help them create a housecleaning schedule, and how to do it quickly and effectively. Teach your grandkids how to change a tire, check the oil in their car, and do general house repairs.

You’ve been on the earth a lot longer than your grandkids; give them some of your wisdom! They need it!

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My nana, mom, dad, sister and I in the airport out first trip to Kenya together

8. Don’t be afraid to be the one who calls first

Many grandparents live miles away from their grandkids, and staying in touch can be hard. To add to that difficulty, there seems to be an expectation that the grandkids will do all of the reaching out. But if you want to connect with your grandkids, maybe it’s time that you take the first step. Pick up the phone and call! The reality is that most people my age aren’t in the habit of calling their family members–we FaceTime or we text. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to connect! So call, ask, “Hey! Is this a good time to chat and catch up?” and take it from there!

9. As much as possible, be an easy person to visit

Now, I recognize that family relies on each other. No arguments there! But I also know of a lot of grandchildren who dread visiting grandparents because they spend their entire time fixing up their property, doing yard work, and helping with errands. As a result, they never actually get any good visiting time in with family. It’s all obligation, no relationship!

I’m not saying it’s wrong to expect family members to help out now and again. Not at all; when my nana was living at her old house my sister and I used to go over multiple times a year simply to pick up all the twigs from her pine trees that would fall down and get in the way of mowing the lawn. But that wasn’t our only interaction with her–in fact, I think that fewer than 10% of our interaction time is spent with chores and “helping out”! And because we have so much time to spend having fun together, when Nana asks me to help out, I’m actually quite happy to and love that there’s a way I can make her life better.

If you’re living a lifestyle that puts the burden of your property upkeep almost entirely on your family’s shoulders, visiting and spending time with family will become a more stressful and tense experience. Maybe it’s time to downsize so that your time can be spent together, not just doing chores!

10. Understand that you both need each other!

There is a special bond between grandparents and their grandkids. The specific dynamics are different in every family, but having someone who loves you so very much who is much older or much younger than you are gives you fresh perspective on life. For the grandkids, it’s so comforting to know “My grandpa has been through this before, and he came through a better man.” Recognize that you have such a special place in your grandkids’ lives, and by opening up your life stories and experience to them you will make their lives all the richer.

Do you have a hobby, habit, or tradition with a grandparent or grandchild that helps you connect with them? Share it in the comments below! 

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