Maintaining a meaningful long-distance relationship is challenging at any age, but it's particularly difficult when a grandparent lives far away from a beloved toddler grandchild. Such young children, who do not yet have a good grasp of time and distance, might have difficultly understanding why Grandma and Grandpa don't visit more often. Fortunately, modern technology now makes virtual visiting possible. By using creative methods of interaction, it's easier to have a warm, loving relationship with those treasured toddlers who live so far away.
Recognize you're not alone and there is hope. The AARP reports that almost half of all grandparents live farther than 200 miles from their grandchildren and spend less time than they want with them because of the distance. Nevertheless, most still feel they are a significant part of their grandchildren's lives.
Use modern technology to your advantage if you have access to a computer with Internet. Programs such as Skype make visual visits possible. Skype allows the toddler to see your face and hear your voice. You can read picture books and sing songs during these online visual chats. If you don't have your own computer, consider regular visits to your public library to access the Internet there.
Read the same picture books to your grandchild when you have your real visits. He will recognize the pictures from your Internet calls and connect the books with the sound of your voice.
Make your phone calls more exciting for the toddler by preparing an enlarged photograph of yourself for her to look at while you're having your conversations. Glue the photo to a cardboard backing and insert it into a reclosable see-through bag that can be changed for a clean one if sticky little fingers are a problem. Recite familiar nursery rhymes and sing songs with the child during these phone calls.
Ask your son or daughter to keep you up to date on your grandchild's interests. If you know which storybook or song is the current favorite, you'll be able to capture the little one's attention.
Keep your phone calls brief but frequent. Remember that a toddler's attention span is very short and a two-minute call every day will probably be more enjoyable for him than a 10-minute call once a week. The idea is for him to become familiar with your voice.
Arrange with your grandchild's parent to buy the toddler's favorite treat and "send" the snack through the computer or phone. If your adult child has the snack ready and hidden at that end, it can be revealed with a flourish at the moment you pretend to send it. This works particularly well with visual calls if you have a duplicate snack at your end and show it to your grandchild right before he "receives" it at his end.
Make audio and video recordings if long-distance phone calls are too expensive. Send these recordings regularly so the toddler will hear the sound of your voice frequently. Record yourself reading simple storybooks, and send the tape along with the book.
Send personalized gifts. Be creative. Turn a photo into a puzzle that even a toddler can enjoy. Glue a picture of you with your grandchild onto cardboard and cut it into three or four simple shapes that little fingers can easily manipulate. Or arrange several photos of your visits together onto a plastic place mat and laminate them. If you know how to knit or crochet, a hat and mittens made with love can also help remind the child of you every time he wears them.
Buy a batch of unlined index cards to use as postcards. Write your address on one side of some of the cards and attach postage stamps. Mail a package of 10 or more of these cards to your adult child and ask her to have the toddler scribble or draw something on the other side of the card especially for you. Address the rest of the cards to the toddler. Paste stickers or small pictures of animals on the other side of the cards to create something colorful and eye-catching a toddler would enjoy. Keep this correspondence going regularly every week or two.
Plan your visits to include special events that build lasting memories. Day outings to the zoo or water park are exciting for toddlers. Less expensive indoor activities such as building a "tent" in the living room by draping a bedroom sheet over some chairs turned on their sides will stand out in little ones' minds because of the novelty of the experience. Be sure to take lots of photos so the kiddies have something concrete to help them remember the fun they had with you.
Start a collection of something during your visit. This can be as simple as bottle caps, the aluminum pull tabs from pop cans, or leaves, rocks and seashells from walks you take together. Place these treasures in a special container and store them in a safe place.
Create a scrapbook with photos of your special times together and include other souvenirs such as drawings you made together on napkins from a restaurant. Keep the book in your possession until the grandkids are older, but go through the book together whenever you have visits.
Invent an extra "birth"day for the toddler if you're unable to be there for the real date. Toddlers will enjoy the fun of another birthday cake with candles during your visit. Explain this special day is for the two of you to celebrate together.