When my colleague suggested that I enter a “Father of the Year” competition, I thought she was crazy. I worked 80-100 hours a week as an entrepreneur, and traveled, which severely limited my time with my eight and ten-year-old kids. Without my knowledge, my colleague entered my name in the National Father’s Day Council competition and a few months later, I found myself on a podium, in San Francisco, flanked by my son, daughter and wife, accepting the award.
This was a life-changing event that prompted some deep reflection. With my two kids now 27 and 29, time and COVID have evolved my outlook on what it means to remain connected as a family.
Time is fleeting and our cherished family connection, with support, love, and wisdom from our parents and grandparents, can vanish in a heartbeat.
The past year’s lockdown has revealed the incredible value of video communication; it keeps companies in business, schools in session, and keeping remote family members together. We’ve also learned that we’re more adaptable to virtual connection than we thought.
According to a recent study conducted by AARP, 71% of grandparents of children 5 years old and under regularly video chatted with their grandchildren, with 40% doing so daily or a few times per week. And 82% of grandparents say they enjoy video chats with their young grandchildren, and the more frequently they’ve done so, the greater the enjoyment and stronger the emotional bond.
With backgrounds in innovative technology, my wife and I considered even more powerful, tech-enabled ways to feel connected both during a pandemic and beyond. What if we could feel together when we’re not? What if we could become even more connected, both locally and over long distances, than we were pre-pandemic? Done properly, we could also create more free time for mom and dad while helping them facilitate connection between their parents and children.
At my latest company, Kinoo, we are enhancing video chat with augmented reality and some other cool technologies to make it feel like a kid and their grandparent are in the same room, sitting side by side. They can play games and enjoy experiences that are even more fun than being together in person! This might seem like a stretch, but so did the idea of the LeapPad when I invented it in 2008, which went on to help 100 million kids learn to read in the next five years. Ahead of Kinoo’s launch this fall, here are some interim, and preparatory tips for engaging in more meaningful video connection.
1. Set a Schedule
Whether it’s monthly, weekly or something in-between, setting a schedule for your child and their grandparent to meet over video chat gives both parties something to look forward to, adds structure to their routines and only boosts their bond further. Additionally, these calls can even serve as virtual babysitting sessions, allowing mom and dad to fulfill other needs in the house during that time.
2. Continue Classic Traditions or Create New Ones
Perhaps one of the most vital aspects of a child’s relationship with their grandparents is learning about their family history, culture and traditions passed through the generations of their ancestors. For a child to know their grandparents and their family’s background contributes tremendously to their sense of identity, and regular video chats are a wonderful way to ignite those special conversations and activities. Just remember to engage a child with stories that are meaningful to them.
For those fortunate enough to grow up with grandparent relationships, they likely can remember visits around the holidays or special events and the traditions that came with those times, whether it was cooking, crafting or any other favorite activity. Even if not in person, those activities can certainly make an impact over video chat and make for a wonderful reason to do them more frequently than usual.
Also, completely new traditions can be created through video calls, such as the grandparent reading a bedtime story to their grandchild over video one night per week, or even reading a chapter book that they can resume during each scheduled call. They can also bake, draw, paint — the possibilities are endless.
3. Engage in Co-Play and Co-Creation
Video chats can be more than just conversation — you can actually play, create, explore and build together! As a start, try drawing the same picture of something meaningful to your child, and then comparing your drawings, with lots of laughter and support. Depending upon the age of your child or grandchild, moving close to the camera, pulling rapidly away, and falling off the screen can evoke peals of laughter. Put your hand in a sock, and let the puppet do the talking, with silly questions such as, “Why do you have hair?” then let your puppet muss up your hair, or observe that you don’t have any!
Cooperative play is well-researched and extremely beneficial to social emotional development. Working together to achieve a common goal through co-play helps children to develop their problem-solving, sharing, leadership, teamwork, speaking and listening skills among several others. Try card games, puzzles, riddles and even virtual board games to maintain interest and connection.
Activities that promote co-play keep the call engaging for the little one, as the essence of a magical video session should evoke feelings of joy, closeness, personal value, and success for both you and your child or grandchild! As a measure, simply review each video call for each of these items, and consider what to do to continually improve, to bring more of these feelings to each and every call, and you’ll find your young loved one scrambling to join you whenever possible!
Jim Marggraff is the creator of the transformational and award-winning LeapPad Learning System, and is devoted to applying advanced technologies to evolve human connectedness. He is also the author of How to Raise a Founder With Heart, which provides parents with a framework for raising children with the skills critical to becoming a good founder, as he is a father of two founders himself. A dedicated and beloved father, Jim was even named Father of the Year by the Father’s Day Council of San Francisco in 2004.