Successful Aging: There are ways to connect with grandchildren during the pandemic

Q. Before the pandemic, I was a physically active grandmother to three young grandchildren. Currently, I am ex

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Q. Before the pandemic, I was a physically active grandmother to three young grandchildren. Currently, I am extremely compliant with the CDC recommendations because of my husband’s compromised immune system. Some of my family members and friends are less cautious. Because I am not physically present, I feel passed over for those grandmotherly activities in favor of those who are less cautious. I’ve become the absent grandmother which is having a negative effect on my mental health. I feel I have lost my role. Grandparents are so important as is my mental health, particularly in this period of uncertainty. Your thoughts?  E.N.

Dear E.N.

Grandparents indeed play a major role in families. That role is so important that in 1978, President Jimmy Carter designated the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day.

There is a reason we deeply care for our grandchildren. It began a million years ago in the plains of Africa, writes geriatrician Dr. William Thomas in his book “What are Old People for? How Elders Will Save the World”:  “A mother gave birth to a hominid child after a long and exhausting labor. She barely had enough energy to nurse her baby and not enough energy to feed or care for her other children.”

“A miracle occurred,” writes Thomas. The maternal grandmother came to the rescue and intentionally shared her food with her grandchildren. It was a defining moment that created a new pattern of support that carried over to other families. Humans have the distinction of being the only species with grandparents who deliberately help raise their grandchildren.

So, caring for grandchildren has a long history. There are ways to continue that relationship during a pandemic. Consider having a conversation with the parents of your grandchildren: Yes, that means your sons or daughters. Tell them how much you miss the children and share with them what grandparents do.

We are a confidant and companion. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, that relationship was found to encourage better behavior and social skills among grandchildren. We teach children new skills. These may be everyday skills such as sewing on a button, setting the table or pumping air into a bicycle tire. It might be how to knit or crochet, fold towels, throw a baseball or tighten screws.

We pass on family history. An Emory University study reports that children who know about their ancestors are better adjusted than those who haven’t been told about their past.

We teach respect for traditions. We also can create new ones while keeping the old ones.

We help increase each other’s knowledge. We can teach life lessons while our grandchildren keep us up-to-date and how to use technology.

We provide a sense of security. This may be the most important during this pandemic. We offer an extra ear when kids need someone to talk to, which sometimes is easier than talking to their parents.

We teach grandchildren not to sweat the small stuff. We have lived long enough to know that fretting over every obstacle or missed opportunity is a waste of energy. We assure our grandchildren that everything will work out in the end.

We impact the lives of our grandchildren.  Studies show that as many as 9 out of 10 adult grandchildren feel that their grandparents influenced their beliefs and values.

Since many relationships need to be expressed remotely, here are just a few suggested by

Read bedtime stories: This can be done with Skype or FaceTime.

Play games online: An example is Words with Friends. Classic games can be played online such as Uno with Facebook and Tabletopia for virtual chess and checkers.

Ask 20 questions: One person writes down the name of an object or topic. The other person asks up to 20 questions to figure out what the other person had in mind. For younger children, use categories such as animals or foods.

Guess how many: Have your grandchild fill a jar with coins, dry bean, M&Ms or marshmallows. Have them send you the picture. The grandparent guesses the number and the child empties the jar to count the item.  Then take turns.

Show and tell: The child picks an item and shows and tells about it, via Facetime or Zoom, just like in school. Then the grandparent does the same.

Create and use flashcards: Help them learn numbers, colors, shapes, math facts and more.

And of course, use the telephone, Facebook and video conferencing: Keep the communication going. Also consider sending notes, jokes or stories by mail.

Thank you, E.N for your important question. Reassert your position; technology is our friend. Best wishes in making that ongoing reconnection. Stay safe and be well.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on
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