Tips for Bonding with Long Distance Relatives
My kids can’t just run down the street to Nana’s house for milk and cookies. Luckily, technology enables us to communicate faster and easier with far-flung relatives than ever before. But can kids really build a close relationship with distant relatives? With a combination of new technology, traditional communication, a dose of creativity and some effort—YES… definitely!
You can stick someone’s face on just about anything these days. Having your mother and mother-in-law staring out from every nook in your house might not sound appealing to you, but it will help your kids learn who these personalities they rarely see are.
We created photo magnets with the kids with close-up pics of relatives. The kids love to match up the grandma with the grandpa and the cousins with their siblings and talk about each person. It also helps when we visit Florida, Chicago or Australia and some excitable family member reaches for them, the kids don’t freak out from stranger danger.
Write a Book:
- Create your own picture books of your experiences, like “Brandon’s Trip to the Zoo” or “Ella and the Circus Elephants.” Ask kids about each of their senses: how they felt, what they smelled, what they saw, heard, etc. Have them write (or dictate) captions for their story. They can draw pictures or use photos or do a funky combination of both.
- Older kids can interview relatives and write their stories for them. Or how about creating a family recipe cookbook? You can even self-publish it as a print-on-demand title for your family.
- Whip up a photo book online. You can have it print out in Grandma’s local store in Florida. Add words and make it a picture book.
Start a Book Club:
Reading together, anything from picture books to novels is a great way to foster bonding. Many years ago, I spent a year teaching English in South Korea. At the time, my two kid sisters were 7 and 8 years old. We started reading Harry Potter books over the phone. My whole family got into it. A couple of months after I got home, the first movie was released in theaters, and we all went together.
You’ve probably seen recordable books in stores a lot lately. Have your long distance rellies pick one up, record the story and mail it to you. Stick a photo of the reader in the book’s front cover so your kids associate the voice with the face. Or have family members whip up a DVD of themselves reading stories to the kids.
Call, Chat, Connect:
Get on the Horn:
Here are a few tips to make long distance phone calls and web chats easier on kids and relatives.
- Reduce radio silence by recapping with kids any news they might want to share before you make the call. They could even write a list or draw a picture to remind them of things they want to say.
- Set-up regular online chat times so everyone’s ready.
- If using a phone, show younger kids a photo of the relative you’ll be calling. Remind kids to speak loudly and clearly, Nana’s hearing might not be what it once was.
It’s free. If you have long distance rellies and you (or they) are not on Skype yet, this must be your first step. Grandparents may not know that phones are for taking photos, videos and texting – according to kids. If they’re slow to jump on board, explain that they’ll learn more about your kid (especially teens and preteens) by trolling through their Facebook page occasionally than they will from a phone call. Add that it’s also faster and easier to view and download your photos.
Yay for Wi-Fi:
Try cooking the same recipe with grandma via Skype or bringing your computer to your child’s school play or dance recital.
Start a Website or Blog:
Create a hub to share your experiences with your family. You can load photos and create a message board. The 6-year-old daughter of one of our KC Mom Bloggers has her own blog.
Everyone appreciates receiving something other than bills in the mail.
- Create photo or hand-drawn postcards.
- Initiate a progressive project, like a one-line-at-a-time story or a picture sent one piece at a time.
- Stick your photos in sandwich bags and tape them together in a handmade scrapbook. Or send scrapbook pages of your outings and events.
- Have the kids create a newsletter or fake headline page of a newspaper with info about their achievements and events.
- Do you like cooking? Do your kids? Why not trade homemade snacks with family members? Flavored popcorn, cookies and cakes ship well. Or try mixing up dry ingredients for chilis and soups. How about sending recipes?
Despite geographic distances, you can help your kids develop close relationships with widely scattered relatives. When your kids do catch up with rellies in person, concentrate on building memories.
Victoria Pressley is a full-time writer, stay-at-home mom and military spouse living in Leavenworth. She is the editor of the upcoming anthology, How to Avoid Murdering Your Mother-in-Law.