Valentine’s Day is a good opportunity for grandparents and grandchildren to spend time together, reach out to one another over long distances and strengthen bonds.

Kate Alexander/Courtesy

Valentine’s Day is a good opportunity for grandparents and grandchildren to spend time together, reach out to one another over long distances and strengthen bonds.

Aging Well: Strengthening grandparent-grandchild bonds

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Tips for bonding

■ You don’t have to do big fancy things to bond with your grandchildren. Simple things such as cuddling up to read a book or baking cookies make memories.

■ Share a hobby or skill with your grandchild. Activities such as cooking, knitting, woodworking, fishing, hiking or bird-watching can instill in grandchildren lifelong interests

■ Share family stories and photos or chart a family tree with grandchildren.

■ If you’re a long-distance grandparent, send small, inexpensive surprises every now and then. Work with parents to determine the best ways to keep in regular contact with grandchildren.

■ New grandparents should talk to parents before the baby is born. Share hopes, fears and expectations. Talking about roles up front paves the way for smoother relationships.

■ Expect moments of joy as well as frustration and worry.

■ Remember to be silly. Make faces and big messes with your grandchildren to build a lasting bond and stay forever young.

Sources: “How to Build the Grandma Connection,” by Susan Bosak, www.myseniorsite.ca and www.kidshealth.org.

Send a valentine

■ Provide your child with age-appropriate valentine craft materials such as construction paper, glue sticks, stickers, glitter, stencils and markers and let their creativity reign.

■ Include a recent photo of your child with the valentine, especially if grandparents live far away.

■ Help your child record or videotape a valentine message for their grandparents.

■ Send Grandma and Grandpa a care package. This could include homemade cookies, a favorite brand of tea or coffee, snacks, books or magazines and a valentine.

■ Help your child make a valentine gift for grandparents, such as a decorated picture frame with their photo, a valentine placemat, bottle cap locket or handmade roses. Directions for these and many other crafts can be found at www.grandparents.com.

Sources: href="http://www.... ">www.ehow.com and www.grandparents.com.

— Flowers, candy and marketing aside, Valentine’s Day is a time to think about those we love and, perhaps, relationships we’d like to make stronger.

The bond between a grandchild and their grandparent is one that, with time and attention, rewards the child and adult.

Older adults are healthier and live longer. This, along with technology such as e-mail and Skype — software for making voice and video calls through the Internet — widens the door of opportunity for grandparents and grandchildren to develop stronger and lasting relationships, even across long distances.

Distance does present a challenge, as do other life circumstances such as illness, disability and strained family relationships. However, it’s never too late to begin a meaningful relationship between a grandparent and grandchild, especially with parents’ help and support.

Grandparents can be a calm, stabilizing force in today’s multitasking families. Their involvement in family life can reinforce a child’s sense of security and provide them additional role models to help them learn life’s many complicated lessons.

This support can be particularly important during emergencies or family troubles such as divorce. Many grandparents serve as temporary or primary caregivers to their grandchildren.

Older adults typically have time to provide their grandchildren undivided attention or an objective, listening ear.

Grandparents and great-grandparents also offer children an important link to their ethnic heritage, family history and traditions. Stories, photos and memorabilia can bring light to the past and provide children invaluable perspective on today’s fast-paced lifestyles.

Grandparents can use their life experience to influence their grandchildren’s emotional, physical and intellectual development. Sharing activities — exercise, hobbies, skills or outdoor activities — can plant seeds of interest in grandchildren as well as memories of time with their grandparents.

Spending time and staying in regular contact with grandchildren also is important for older adults’ health. Grandchildren can be a welcome distraction from financial problems, health woes and grief. Youthful spirit and energy can add elements of silliness and spontaneity to an older adult’s life and encourage them to make healthy choices so they can remain in their grandchildren’s lives.

Parents can play an important part in facilitating and strengthening these relationships, especially in situations involving long-distance or elders who are unwell, disabled or unable to travel.

Hanging photos of grandparents and great-grandparents and pointing out these family members in photo albums can spark interest and conversation. Even if a child never met or doesn’t remember a person, they can learn a lot about their family — and bond with parents — by hearing stories and talking about relatives.

Sometimes parents need to make a concerted effort to fit visits with grandparents into packed schedules. Even infrequent visits to out-of-town relatives can be special and memorable to children and grandparents.

Receiving a letter or gift in the mail can brighten a child or grandparent’s day. Parents can encourage this by having their children write letters to their grandparents regularly or sending grandparents a box of stationary and stamps.

There is no shortage of resources for grandparents or parents who want to build intergenerational relationships in their families. There are many books and websites — such as www.grandparents.com and www.legacyproject.org — full of ideas of things to do with grandchildren and information about grandparenting issues.

This article includes information from “Bonding with grandchildren,” an article at www.kidshealth.org, and “The importance of grandparents,” from www.myseniorsite.ca.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 970-871-7676.

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