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The essential grandparenting part of families
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Children need the encouragement and wisdom of grandparents. And parents need the help and backup that grandparents can give in raising kids. - photo by Linda and Richard Eyre
We have just returned from Japan, where we had the opportunity to speak to some wonderful parents and families. As always when we are in Asia, we were impressed by the multigenerational meaning of family there and with the fact that grandparents are thought of as integral and respected parts of families and looked to for advice and approval.

In most of the world, family means extended family and refers to the three or more generations that often live in the same home. It seems that it is just in America that we define family as the nuclear family only parents and children. And we live in a society and a culture that largely worships youth and often disregards and disrespects age.

Children need the encouragement and wisdom of grandparents. And parents need the help and backup that grandparents can give in raising kids. And grandparents need the energy and enthusiasm that comes from spending more time with grandchildren.

As grandparents, its easy to blame our lack of influence and lack of respect from our families on Americas youth culture or on the separate and walled-off nuclear families of our kids. But if we dont feel as much respect or have as much influence as we would like, maybe it is our own fault. Maybe we are not being proactive enough in our grandparenting. Maybe we are not taking enough initiative in being more involved with our grandkids.

We need to remember that our most profound influence with our grandchildren comes not as much when we have them together in groups as it does when we communicate individually with them and do things with them one on one.

Here are two suggestions for effective individual communication with grandkids that we have seen work again and again in families we have observed.

Grandma or grandpa dates

Take your grandkids out on little private, individual dates. For the pre-schoolers, individual time might be just reading a book together or playing with toys or going to a nearby playground.

With kids who are a little older, it is highly entertaining and enlightening to take one of them out to lunch. Take a notebook and ask questions. Write down and save the answers so you can compare them with the answers to the same questions when you ask them again next year.

You might start by asking what is the happiest and the saddest thing that has happened since you saw them last. Here are a few other questions to try:

What is your favorite food?

What is your favorite song?

What is your favorite movie and why?

What do you love?

What are you afraid of?

How happy are you on a scale from 1 to 10?

What do you worry about most?

What is an example of something kind you did for someone else?

If you could change something about your life, what would it be?

Social media

The other essential way to communicate with older elementary and adolescent grandkids is through social media.

In our own case, we used to send emails, but we have found that our grandkids rarely look at their email account, even if they have one. They regularly use Facebook and Twitter, and the more recent favorite is Instagram. Just commenting on their Instagram posts lets them know that you are aware of what they are doing. And it may also make them a little more cautious about what they post. Do it quickly because they are already moving on to the next thing, such as Snapchat.

Especially fun with preschoolers is FaceTime and Skype. Its such an efficient way to keep up with what is going on with your long-distance grandchildren.

If you dont have a clue how to use those sites on your computer or phone, its time to figure it out or ask one of your grandchildren.