Helping children connect with long distance partner & family

10 Ways To Help Children Connect With Long Distance Family And Friends

Lisa McKay Advice, Communication & Conflict, Family & Marriage 7 Comments

Are you in a long distance relationship where you or your partner has children? Are you raising children far away from family and friends who are important to you?

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you’ve probably wrestled with the question of how to best help your kids get to know these people and maintain meaningful relationships with them.

I know my own parents grappled with this question–they country-hopped around the world for 21 years while my siblings and I were growing up.

Now I’m married and a parent myself. Since my husband and I spend an average of two months of the year apart from each other, my kids are frequently in a long distance relationship with their dad.  And because we live in Vanuatu and both sets of grandparents live in other countries (one in Australia and one in America, groan!) our children have a predominately long distance relationship with their extended family members.

Here are some of the things we have done to help our children build those important relationships across distance, and to help family and friends feel connected to us even though we live in the South Pacific.

These tips are not a “how to” manual–they are simply things we have done. As you read through them, think about which of these you’re already doing, and what else might work for you. Then leave a comment below and share your thoughts. I’d love to hear them!

Dom in luggage cart 2

1. Visit when you can

This goes both ways. It’s as important for grandparents and partners, etc., to visit as it is for children to visit them.

This helps children feel that their grandparents, your partner, or other important figures have seen and understand “their” world. It also allows you to spend time together while the children are relaxed and at home, rather than when they are out of their element and busy meeting the myriad demands that come with traveling.

2. Help contribute to the cost of the other person’s travel

If the people you love can’t afford to visit you, help them out if you can.

My parents have a policy that’s still in effect despite the fact that all of us “kids” are more than 30 years old now. Here’s their deal: My parent’s will pay half of a return air-ticket to Australia for all of us (children, spouses, grandchildren) every year.

Their generosity has helped us travel to spend time in Australia at times when we would have decided against it for financial reasons.

So if you have parents or relatives that would love to visit but can’t afford to, consider whether you could contribute to the cost of their travel. Encourage other friends and family members to help subsidize travel instead of buying other birthday or Christmas presents.

3. Involve children in some Skype or FaceTime calls

Make sure you involve your children in some (but not all) of your Skype or phone calls.

Consider making these “kids included” calls a regular part of your routine (e.g., every second Saturday morning) and schedule these “all family” calls for times when your kids are not likely to be too tired or hungry.

Resist any temptation to make the calls extra long to make up for preceding weeks of no contact (you don’t want to turn these calls into infrequent extended chores that children learn to dread).

Use a webcam whenever internet bandwidth allows. Even if your computer doesn’t have one build in, external webcams are cheap, easy to set up, and add enormously to the quality of the contact. If grandparents don’t have webcams on their end, buy them one for Christmas and install it during a home visit.

(However, don’t push communication styles that step too far outside another’s comfort zone. For example, if a grandparent is partially deaf phone and video calls might be very taxing. They may prefer to type emails or instant message so that they can catch everything.)

A note for parents on the kid’s end of the call

If your child struggles to connect well on Skype, encourage them to identify something they want to talk about or show family before the call (toys, books, something from school, bugs–whatever) and something they want to ask. You can also grab a free PDF with 30 good questions to ask kids during video calls in the box below.

Also, try doing the call in the playroom while you’re sitting on the floor doing something together, like building a train set or a tower. Having an activity can help calm and focus children.

You can always try following kids around with your phone or the laptop, too. The person on the other end would probably love to see them riding their bike, etc. So don’t feel like you have to do the classic “sit and talk” call.

A note for grandparents or partners on the other end of the call

Children often freeze up or struggle to talk via telephone or computer.

You can help them by asking a couple (not dozens) of open-ended questions that require the children to give more than a simple yes or no answer. (Grab a free cheat sheet that can help with this below).

Give children time to come up with those answers after you ask a question. Don’t rush in too fast to fill pauses or silence–children may just be struggling to find some words.

And try not to take it personally if the child doesn’t seem interested in talking to you on a particular call. Kids are going to be kids at times, whether they’re on a special bi-monthly call with you or not.

 4Blog, keep a private family Facebook or Instagram account, or write a regular newsletter

If you live far away from friends and family, figure out some way you can help them feel connected to the little details of your life, not just the big news.

There are lots of ways to do this nowadays. I’ve kept a blog throughout our years abroad. I’m also very active on Facebook and regularly share photos and stories about the children.

Other families I know have a closed, private Facebook group or Instagram account that’s only for families and close friends.

 5Send paper copies of photographs in both directions

Send children photographs of yourself (especially photos of you with the child, if you can). If the children are young, ask the in-house parent to show these photos to the kids, and display them where children can see them.

When you spend time in-person with the child, take a lot of photos. Then make some sort of record of things you’ve done together during the visit (a photo book or other project.) These sorts of tangible reminders that children can handle and hold help cement memories of all the good times you’ve had.

And if you’re the one raising children far away, send or email photos and videos regularly, especially if you don’t blog. There are few things that mean more to grandparents and siblings than photos of their grandchildren or nieces/nephews.

 6Send letter, postcards, cards, or packages

Children love to get mail of their own, so send children letters, cards, photos, or packages addressed to them by post occasionally.

Packages are especially exciting, and several small items usually go over better than packages containing one big item.

Also consider sending some of your favorite children’s books. If you have a copy of the same book on your end, you might even be able to read it to them via Skype at some point.

If they’re old enough to have their own email account, you can email them as well.

From the other side, if you’re the parent of children living far away, help your kids draw pictures or write short letters or post-cards to send to their grandparents or other important people.

7. Schedule a special “themed” call

Because it can be challenging for some kids to open up on via phone or video call, you might want to put some extra effort into having “themed” calls you plan in advance.

For example, you can schedule a special “5 Questions” call. Partners or grandparents can come prepared with a list of 5 questions for their child and vice versa.

If kids are young, start with favorite movies, foods, colors, etc. For older kids, try more complicated questions like, “What would you do with a million dollars?” and “What three things would you bring with you to a deserted island?”

Other “themed call” ideas are:

  • Help with home-work or reading call
  • Cook something in the kitchen call
  • “Tea party” call
  • Tell jokes call

8. Create a “marker” of the child’s presence in your home

Both our children were born in Australia, at the hospital near my parent’s house. When they were born, we planted a tree for each child. Now, when we return there every year, the kids are excited to go see how much “their” tree has grown.

There are other ways to create physical markers, too. You could put a height chart on the wall and measure the child every time they visit.

9. Play a game via video call

I’ve actually never tried this one, but several people I know play games (like UNO) with kids via Skype. Hangman or charades also work well.

10. Create an ongoing shared “story” or “adventure”

If kids are young, consider getting two identical stuffed animals. You can take pictures of the child and toy on your end and send them to your partner or family. They can take pictures of the toy on their end having adventures in their world and send them along. If it “takes” it can be a fun way to create a shared bond.

What do YOU do?
Leave a comment and add to these ideas.

Related posts

5 Options When It Feels Like There’s Nothing To Talk About With Your Long Distance Love When our second child was three weeks old, my husband, Mike, headed back to our home in Laos, while I stayed on in Australia with the kids for another six weeks. On more than one evening during those ...
Staying Connected With Family And Friends When You Live Far Away In this day and age, many of us aren’t just in long distance relationships with our romantic partners. In an era of moving to attend college or find work, many of us live in a different state (or even...
How Do You Deal With Stress? 10 Important Questions For Couples To Answer There are no two ways around it… being apart from the one person you most want to be spending time with is stressful. Learning to communicate well and stay connected across distance is stressful. And ...

Comments 7

  1. This Blog Really Helping Me. This Informative is Very useful for me. thank you for the sharing.
    Family Distance is not good for small kids. They effected with our behavior.

  2. My parents have been particularly creative about staying in touch with their grandchildren. Before we left the US, my mother took my kids to an office supply store and let them pick out their own special pack of paper and a binder. My parents print their letters to each child on their own special paper, and we collect them in their binders. When we moved to a new house, they sent letters with directions to “treasure” we had buried in our yard on their behalf. My kids still haven’t figured that one out ;).

    We have also started an annual photo scavenger hunt over iMessage with some extended family. My dad is the judge, and we send in our submissions for each category over the course of a week. It’s so fun for the kids and grown ups, and leads to lots of conversations!

    1. Post
      Author
  3. I’m a long distance granny. Here is a list for coping with separation from my little darlings.

    How do I adjust to “love lag?”

    Be thankful. Savor the fun and joy we shared.
    Chronicle the trip. I like to cement the memories with books of photos and narrative using Shutterfly . I send favorite photos of us together as postcards using the sticky-backs from PhotoStix
    As a believer in God’s “social media”, I pray. Better than I, He can guide their school situations, shape their characters and meet family needs.
    Plan for the next visit!

    From my blog about emotional jet lag after a visit, October 2012.

    1. Post
      Author
  4. When we left (daughter 10 months old) Europe to go to Asia, my mum gifted us a set of placemats with family pictures on them. There were two for my side of the family and two for S.’s side. We’ve visited Europe, Europe has visited us, and at some stage daughter discovered that the pictures on the placemats matched the people she saw on Skype. She loves picking out aunts and uncles and grandparents and now that she’s 3 years old, she’s starting to recognize them in the “funny” pictures (with sun glasses, in snow gear) as well. This year I hope I’ll be getting a new set, for our baby son (9 months old as I write), because the old set is a bit… well.

    1. Post
      Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *