How to stay connected with grandparents while social distancing

August 4th, 2020

Where would we be without our grandparents? They provide care; they keep children connected to family traditions, stories and culture; and they’re a wonderful source of fun, games and unconditional love. Studies have shown that close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren are good for the mental health of both groups. And for teens who’ve been bullied, a grandparent can be just the right sympathetic ear.

But right now, many grandparents and grandchildren are being forced to stay apart. One study of Australian families found that since COVID-19, the number of children being looked after by their grandparents has plummeted.

This is hard on everyone. But families can use technology to help bridge the gap.

  1. Make sure grandparents are safe and confident online

Some grandparents are terrific with technology, but others appreciate a bit of help. Be Connected provides great lessons for seniors: from the basics of using devices, through to enjoying games and apps. And the eSafety Commission provides a clear run-down of the skills older Australians need to manage online during COVID-19.

If possible, get teens involved in talking to their grandparents about technology and coaching them to use it. This can help empower both younger and older people, give them new things to talk about, and help them understand each other better.

  1. Decide which technology to use

Think about your family’s priorities: Are you looking for a platform that’s free, easy to use, and accessible from all sorts of devices? Or a platform that’s highly secure and fixes breaches quickly? Or just a platform that your teens or grandparents already know well? Find out about the pros and cons of different platforms, and their history with privacy and security.

At present, FaceTime and Facebook Messenger may be the most popular options used by grandparents to connect with grandchildren during COVID-19. Other popular videoconferencing platforms include Zoom, Webex, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Houseparty, and Google Hangouts. Get the low-down on the most popular social media, games and apps here.

  1. Prepare for a get-together

Make calls with grandparents a regular part of your family routine, if possible. Avoid times when children, teens or adults are likely to be tired, hungry or cranky! It helps to think in advance of things you can talk about and show each other, and to set your devices up so you’re avoiding glare or background noise.

  1. Have fun!

Some families are happy to simply chat about what’s been happening. Others enjoy more interactive activities, such as:

  • Using videoconferencing to cook meals together, play music together, or enjoy quizzes, memory games, scavenger hunts, or old-school games like Hangman.
  • Watching sporting matches, movies or TV shows together.
  • Playing multiplayer games online.

Via videoconferencing, your family can also enjoy things like:

  • Grandparents sharing family stories and old photographs.
  • Grandchildren taking their grandparents on a tour of their room and their school work.
  • Grandchildren guiding their grandparents through the lighter side of technology, including emojis, memes and virtual backgrounds.
  • Grandchildren asking their grandparents conversation-starter questions, such as:
    • ‘When you were my age, what did you and your family do for fun?’
    • ‘What were the best and worst things about school for you?’
    • ‘Who were your friends at school? What did you get up to together?’
    • ‘Did you ever get in trouble at school? Did you ever experience bullying?’
  1. Be honest with each other

Nothing can really replace getting together in person. Grandparents and grandchildren can be frank with each other about how they are feeling, while also encouraging optimism and hope. It can help to:

  • Put your happy feelings into words, as well as your sad ones. For example: ‘I’m upset that I can’t come over and have dinner with you, but I’m pleased that I can see you laughing and having fun.’
  • Emphasise that COVID-19 distancing is temporary, and that many people are working hard to fix things.
  • Recognise that it’s natural to miss each other and it’s OK to talk about whatever you’re feeling.
  • Have an honest chat about how frequent and long your calls should be. Sometimes, daily calls can be a great source of support; at other times, it might make everyone feel tired and stressed.
  • Remind your family of how much you love each other, and that you will all be together in person again.