Grandparenting: Bonding with Grandchildren

Learn activities for building strong relationships with grandchildren of all ages, whether you’re near or far.

For many grandparents, having a grandchild in their lives is a wonderful gift. From the opposite perspective, the role of a grandparent is equally thrilling in the lives of these new human beings.

While similar to parenting, there are also many differences. Grandparents don’t typically have the responsibility of getting children to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night with them, or taking them to child care or school. They also aren’t typically the primary rule enforcer, which may make their role and relationship with their grandchildren a little more fun than the parent role can be.

With that being said, the range of relationships between grandchildren and grandparents can vary widely—some resemble a parent-child relationship and others don’t. There’s an increasing number of grandparents raising grandchildren as the primary parent or caring for their grandchildren while parents work. The kind of grandparent activities you will do together will vary by the kind of relationship you have. Factors such as how often you see your grandchildren, how far away you live, and the age of your grandchildren are all variables to consider.

Here are bonding activities for grandparents and grandchildren at all distances and ages to try.

How to Bond with Your Grandchildren from Far Away

  1. Use FaceTime to communicate on a regular basis. Being able to see you makes the interaction more concrete, especially for the littlest ones.
  2. If you travel a lot, send a postcard from each destination you visit.
  3. Read a story to your grandchild or gradually read a chapter book over the phone or using FaceTime.
  4. The “Marco Polo” app allows you to record and make permanent videos. You can record yourself reading picture books for your grandchild to view. You can also create a family YouTube channel for sharing and keeping larger videos.
  5. If your grandchildren live close to a place that you travel to for work or pleasure, add a few days on to your trips and visit as often as you can.
  6. Establish unique rituals. For example, always say goodbye a special way (“Adios. Remember I love you to the moon and back.”)

How to Bond with Your Grandchildren In-Person

When you are together in person, there are several things you can do to further strengthen your bond with your grandchild. Follow your grandchild’s lead. Offer times where you play whatever your grandchild wants to play. This builds trust and strengthens the relationship. At other times, you can gently lead the play. For example, with school-agers, introduce some games from your childhood and make sure your grandchild knows that these were games you played. Include games like hide and seek, jacks, jump rope, marbles, hopscotch, and others.

Grandparent Activities to do with Infants and Toddlers

With this age group, following their lead is a big part of your interactions. An infant or toddler will be happy with a grandparent who watches what she is interested in and joins in without taking over the play.

Grandparent Activities for Preschoolers

  • Try cooking or baking together. Maybe there is a special recipe you can teach your grandchild to make with you. Or let your grandchild pick the recipe she wants to make.
  • Offer some art activities depending on your grandchild’s age and interests. Preschoolers might enjoy vegetable printing or watercolor painting.
  • Read aloud together often with the goal of having some books become your grandchild’s favorites to read with you. If you have favorites from your childhood, share those.

Grandparent Activities for School-Agers

  • Older children may enjoy learning a new card game like Uno, Hearts, or Crazy Eights. Or try a classic board game like chess, Monopoly, or Candy Land.
  • Experiment with art activities, like sculpting with clay or simple Origami (Japanese paper folding).
  • Think about something you are passionate about, such as fishing, scrapbooking, or hiking. Offer to teach your grandchild about that skill. Don’t push it, however, if he doesn’t seem interested.
  • Try putting a jigsaw puzzle together.
  • Plan an occasional sleepover for your school-age grandchildren. This gives their parents a little break and gives grandchildren some extra grandparent time.

Remember to check in regularly with your children about their rules and expectations. Is there anything the grandchildren are never allowed to do? For example, ask about television or movie watching guidelines and whether there are any forbidden foods (either by choice or because of allergies). Do any rules have flexibility when visiting grandparents? For example, could your grandchild stay up a little later on her sleepover? Checking ahead of time will avoid awkward conversations later on.

Whether your time with your grandchildren is limited or you see them every week, each experience can be important towards relationship-building. Make every interaction meaningful, no matter the medium.

Additional Resources on Grandparenting:
  • Your mom or dad was a blessing when you returned from maternity leave – providing excellent care for your child in a way that only grandparents can. But you may not have that level of support forever. Consider the benefits of an early childhood education program and how you can smoothly transition your whole family when it’s time.
  • Whether your parents live close by, your spouse’s parents live out of state or some combination of both – it can be tricky to ensure that everyone feels included in your child’s life. Discover three tips for balancing time with both sets of grandparents.
  • Are you caring for your elderly mom or dad from afar? Elder care expert Sharon Roth Maguire from BrightStar Care speaks to the pragmatic side of long distance caregiving in this Family Matters Podcast, with actionable tips for managing everyday needs and responsibilities.

Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team

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