• Behavior
  • Parenting

Grandparents: Give grandkids time to reacquaint with you

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Granddaughter smiling and hugging grandmother, while mother and grandson walk through the door to greet grandmother.

In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

1. How to prep the kids?

2. What to expect?
3. How to bond better?

No more air hugs!

COVID-19 vaccinations are bringing lingering embraces and heart-melting cuddles for grandparents and other relatives after more than a year of isolation.

But what if that long anticipated moment with a grandchild, niece or nephew turns heart crushing instead? Remember, children change a lot in a year, and some children were born during the pandemic and have never met their grandparents.

1. HOW TO PREP THE KIDS?

Although grandparents have been waiting for the day to reconnect, it’s important to keep an open mind and respect children's space - especially if they haven't seen the adult relative in a while. We understand it’s hard to be patient, but the reward will be worth it.

The key is taking it slow. “Allow your grandchildren to be the guide and let them choose the pace. Eventually, they’ll get there,” says Darla Mullenix, senior therapist at the Center for Child Counseling.

Parents can make the reunion less stressful for their young children by talking about it.

“Depending on the child’s age, parents can help prepare them to reunite,” says Ljubica “Jibby” Ciric, vice president of Child and Family Mental Health Services for Alpert Jewish Family Service of Palm Beach County. “Simple art projects like making cards will help encourage them or looking at photographs.”

“For a child, 12 months is a really long time, but if nothing has changed, children are resilient and usually jump right back into a relationship,” she says.

2.  WHAT TO EXPECT?

When babies are uncomfortable, they cry because they can’t walk away. Toddlers and preschoolers may act out as well. After quarantining with only immediate family for so long, they may find visitors overwhelming at first. 

“Sometimes grandparents have hurt feelings. Don’t take it personally,” says Jamie-Lyn Richartz, director of Counseling Services at the Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County. “Be positive and persist in building their trust, and comfort will naturally follow.”  

Be mindful that the process could be slow. “Some children have been through so much,” Mullenix says. “Depending on a family’s experiences, they may have lost loved ones, jobs and their home. The pandemic has been a traumatic experience for every child.”

3. HOW TO BOND BETTER?

Children change a lot in a year, so what they may have enjoyed a year ago may no longer interest them.

“Talk to their parents first and bring something they really like when you visit them — a favorite food or a book. It doesn’t have to cost anything,” Ciric says. “Take them to the playground or play a game. And talk to them and share your thoughts and feelings.”

Even if things start out rocky, it will just take a little time for you to become familiar to the child, Richartz says. “Be patient. Spend time doing things the child likes. The gift of time and unconditional love is the most important thing,” she says.

SOURCES:

• Ljubica “Jibby” Ciric, vice president of Child and Family Mental Health Services, Alpert Jewish Family Service of Palm Beach County
• Darla Mullenix, licensed mental health counselor and senior therapist, Center for Child Counseling
• Jamie-Lyn Richartz, director of Counseling Services, Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County

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