Bev and I have four grandchildren living in the southern U.S. This usually means road trips or cross-border flights a few times a year to stay connected. But what happens during a pandemic that closes borders, including provincial ones? How can we maintain—and even nurture—relationships with the children in our lives?
Despite the variety of communication gadgets at my disposal, I still struggle to build meaningful memories with my grandkids. I can testify that putting a phone in the hands of a five-year-old doesn’t automatically lead to life-changing conversations. Like any meaningful relationship, it will take effort and more than a little bit of creativity. But it is worth it. Ongoing relationships with children create unique opportunities to point them to Jesus.
Here are five ways you can build your relationship with the children in your life when distance keeps you apart.
House Tours: While my five-year-old grandson may not be much of a talker, he is a great tour guide. With the Facetime camera rolling ask the little person in your life to show you his room or her favourite toy. If you are really adventurous, ask for a tour of the whole house.
Send Postcards: Receiving old fashioned mail is a highlight for kids. Buy a few postcards from the city or province you live in; you may have to go to the local tourist centre or museum to find them. Write a note on the back of the postcard letting the child know how you are praying for them. After you drop it in the mail give them a call and let them know you have sent them something special, but don’t tell them what it is; anticipation is a great memory builder.
Build a Puzzle: Find a puzzle between 50-100 pieces. (I found a 100-piece, cartoon-style, Canadian map puzzle). Assemble the puzzle in a place you can leave it set up for a number of days. Each day mail a set number of pieces to the child, making sure the pieces will connect to pieces you have already sent. (I mailed 9 each day—3 for each of the older grandchildren). Have them text or email you pictures of the puzzle as they are building it and see if they can guess what the final outcome will be.
Play a Game: There are a number of online games you can play together, and though you cannot usually see the other person, it still is a shared activity. However, depending upon the child and how courageous you are, try playing a physical game via video calling. Of course, each of you will have to move both pieces around the board, but if you keep the game simple, like Snakes and Ladders or Trouble, you can usually finish a game.
Phone Dates: Set a time and date for the video call. If possible make it recurring so it becomes part of the weekly rhythm for you and the child. (Eg. Monday nights are auntie night!) Like any good date, you will need to do some planning, so consider ahead of time what you will do during your call. It doesn’t need to be long, but it does need to engage the youngster’s mind. What are his interests? What does she like to play? Perhaps read a book together or your grandson can “sell” you a latte from his coffee bar or your niece and you can play house?
These are a few ways of connecting with that important child but they are not the substance. Like an empty container, you need to choose how you will fill it. Incorporate faith into the various ways you are connecting with that boy or girl. Make it as natural as the air you breathe. Pray with them, tell them why Jesus is amazing, share your favourite Bible verse or story.
God has entrusted you with a child who needs to know how marvelous Jesus is, and that truth is most effectively communicated in the context of a loving relationship. Don’t give up because you cannot physically be with them. Press on, this is worthwhile work!
Bill McCaskell is the national director for One Hope Canada.