Parenting

How grandparents can keep in touch with grandkids while social distancing

Easy ways to stay in touch.

Girl video chatting with grandparents Credit: Getty Images / SDI Productions

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The last time I hugged my granddaughters was on March 22, just days before the pandemic's shelter-in-place orders went into effect. My grandchildren only live 15 minutes from my house, but like so many other grandparents, we're following the CDC's recommendation for seniors to practice social distancing. This is difficult to do during a time of crisis when families need each other's support the most, but thankfully, there are alternative ways to stay connected that help ease the burden of being apart.

Social media is overflowing with stories of grandparents who have been forced to cancel family vacation plans, causing them to miss out on birthday and graduation celebrations. Recently, a video of grandparents who had covered themselves entirely in plastic bags for a chance to hug their grandchildren went viral, and I understood their desperation.

While there are some grandparents who are fortunate enough to live in the same house as their grandchildren, those of us who don't have to find more creative ways to keep in touch. Here are seven tips for staying in touch with grandkids during social distancing.

1. Plan a social distance visit

Paula Coomer, a grandmother who lives in a small town near the Washington/Idaho state line, has not been in close quarters with her five grandchildren (ranging in age from 13 to 5) since mid-February. She has always been close to them, visiting often and doing craft activities with them. Several weeks into the quarantine, Paula decided she could no longer handle the separation and devised a safe way to connect with her grandchildren through driveway visits.

"We pull up front, and the family stands in the driveway. We stay by the truck and talk from there," Paula says. "Not being able to hold them has been the most difficult, and knowing that in the mind of a child, three months is a lifetime. My heart and gut wrench over what I'm missing. I've bawled like a baby over it, especially after that first couple of driveway visits. But now I keep a stash of fun little toys and treats, so each time I go, I take a bag of goodies to them. I think that has helped from both points of view."

2. Set up weekly virtual visits

For grandparents who live too far away to do driveway visits, connecting via technology is the next best option. There are plenty of free video chat services available such as Zoom, Facetime, Skype, Google Hangout, and Facebook Messenger. For something geared specifically towards grandparents, try Grandy, a service that specializes in connecting seniors with their grandchildren through messaging, video calls, and online games. Grandparents can schedule online visits or send digital postcards with photos and videos.

Caribu is another user-friendly video-calling app that enables grandparents to engage with grandchildren through books. Both the grandparent and grandchild can see the same book on their individual devices, and the adult can read the story while the child flips the pages on their side.

3. Send an old-fashioned care package

When hugs and driveway visits are impossible, and technology just isn't enough, there are offline ways for grandparents to keep in touch with their grandchildren. Care packages are a popular way to send little reminders of love. Grandparents can send a book, small toys, or homemade cookies, and the grandchildren can mail crafts and special drawings in return. Cards and handwritten letters are also a thoughtful way to express love, and some families exchange questionnaires with grandparents to gather information about their lives.

Another option is to purchase a Grandparent Journal that includes detailed questions about family history, personality traits, and the early experiences of the grandparent. These books are a fun way to pass the time while under quarantine and to preserve family stories for future generations.

Get the Grandmother's Journal at Books a Million for $16.61

4. Use technology to connect with teenaged grandchildren

Grandparents like Terry Sykes-Bradshaw have no other option but technology to stay in touch with their long-distance teenaged grandchild. When Terry and her husband set out for their winter home in Florida, they fully expected to return to Ohio in the spring to see their family. Terry especially looked forward to her weekly outings with her granddaughter, but after the coronavirus outbreak and the closure of Kent State, Terry and her husband remained quarantined in Florida while their granddaughter moved into their Ohio home. Both Terry and her granddaughter have Type 1 diabetes, which puts them at a greater risk for complications if they are exposed to COVID-19.

She keeps in touch with her granddaughter through the JusTalk app but still worries that they may not see each other for a long time. "She's a typical teen who is not a huge fan of being visible," Terry says. "Since she's a creative writing major, I call her for help on my own writing, and we talk about grammar. I know I’m compensating for not seeing her, but I'm not going to stop and she’s OK with it. I’m kind of a mess about all of this. What I would really like right now is to give her a great big hug."

Get the JusTalk app for iOS

5. Kid-appropriate messaging services can help connect with schoolchildren

I've found my own creative ways to stay connected to my oldest grandchild, who is 8, through the Facebook Messenger Kids app. She can contact me whenever she wants to play virtual games, send photos, or just to say hello. But my favorite way to reach her is through Facetime chats, where we can cook together, share tea parties, put on puppet shows, and have dance parties. Netflix also offers party watch nights with synchronized video playback and group chats with our favorite shows. This allows us to watch a movie simultaneously with the grandkids during our traditional Friday movie night at home.

Get the Facebook Messenger Kids app for iOS

6. Be creative to connect with infants and toddlers

Connecting virtually with my youngest granddaughter, who is 18 months old, is a bit more challenging. My biggest fear is that she'll forget who I am if she doesn't see my face or hear my voice regularly. To remedy this, I've been reading books to her through Facetime and singing to her so that she'll still remember me when we finally get to see each other again. I love reading the classic oldies to her like Dr. Seuss' Hop On Pop and Robert Lopshire's Put Me In The Zoo, and she enjoys Sam Bratney's Guess How Much I Love You, and several of the Sesame Street books, especially Rubber Ducky Bathtime Tunes.

7. Remember that this won't last forever

As we tread these uncharted waters of the coronavirus quarantine, it's important to stay connected with family and to remember that our situation is not a permanent one. Our grandchildren will not forget us, and there will be no sweeter feeling than the day we get to hold them in our arms again.

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