Whether you live right around the corner or just enjoy occasional visits, you can begin bonding with new grandkids almost from the day they’re born. The following 10 suggestions from Sally Wendkos Olds, author of Super Granny (Sterling, 2009), are fun for you—and the newest family members. Some you can do as soon as you meet the newcomers; for others, wait a few months. Enjoy!
1. Sing, Sing, Sing!
Crooning to babies while rocking them is a perfect way to get their attention, calm them down, and maybe even put them to sleep. Any songs you know will do the trick—pop, jazz, folk, spiritual, or hip-hop. Babies are the best, least judgmental audience you’ll ever have; take advantage of it. If you’re a long-distance grandparent, record yourself singing some of your favorite lullabies using YourVoice; send them to parents so they can play your greatest hits for the babies anytime while showing them your photo.
2. Write Love Letters
On the day of each grandbaby’s birth, write a short letter to welcome him or her to the family. Then, every month following, write another letter on the same day. Dress up the letters with brightly-colored animal stickers and provide a special box to keep them in. Ask the parents to read each letter when it arrives while showing the baby your photo, or read the letters aloud yourself when you visit. When they’re a little older, the children will love seeing the notes you wrote to them during their first year and hold them as keepsakes.
3. Make Them Laugh
Gently grab an infant’s hand and say, “Gotcha!” Then, let the child squeeze your fingers, and say, “Hey, you got me!” Pull your hand away so the baby has to work (a little) at catching it. Or put a burp cloth in your mouth and shake your head back and forth wildly. (Don’t be afraid to look silly; this stuff is high comedy for an infant.) Or try an old standby like “This Little Piggy” in which you touch each toe one at a time while singing the nursery rhyme, tickling the child after reaching the pinky toe. One more funny game: Imitate the baby’s actions. The baby will be thrilled and will keep responding to keep the game going.
4. Help Them Sign
Before they learn to speak, babies learn gestures, including holding up their hands to show they want to be picked up, and pointing to what they want you to give them. You can teach them to wave bye-bye, nod their heads to say yes, and shake their heads “no.” Make a game of learning the gestures, and help take the mystery out of what your grandchildren want—or don’t want. Start with one sign when the baby is about six months old; say, the sign for bath. Move your hands up and down on your chest when you give the babies a bath. Make this sign every time you give them a bath and say the word at the same time. When the babies begin to sign back to you for the bath, teach them another sign.
5. Make a Family Slide Show
Put a set of photos on a CD or DVD, or in a digital picture frame. Sit babies in front of the screen or frame so they can watch a slide show starring themselves, their parents, their cousins—and, of course, you. They’ll like the movement from one photo to another and eventually come to recognize the whole cast of characters.
6. Art for Baby’s Sake
When babies look at or point to a painting or other artwork, pick them up and bring them closer to it. Talk to them about it—describe the colors, talk about the subject, or point out and count repeated motifs such as flowers or boxes. Babies especially like watching things that swing from the ceiling. Blow on a mobile to get it to rotate and hold them up to see it. Pretty soon they’ll pucker their own lips to imitate blowing.
7. Bathtime Adventures
As soon as babies can sit up, they can peel off simple toys made to stick to the side of the tub and laugh when you put them back up. It’s on the same principle as dropping spoons from a high chair, only less back strain for the retriever. You can also get floating toys: boats and balls, and plastic cups to fill and empty. Helpful supplies to keep the fun going include a simple open basket to store toys and let them dry between baths, a low stool so you can sit comfortably next to the tub, and fluffy towels with hoods for the littlest bathers.
8. Be a Poet
To celebrate first birthdays, write simple verses to review your favorite activities with infants during their first year—mention cuddling, reading, and holding hands as they learned to walk. Even if you have never written a poem, seeing the faces of your first grandchildren may inspire you. And go ahead and read the poems aloud; even before infants can understand the words, they can hear the lilt in your voice. (Or read poems written by others, like Mother Goose, A. A. Milne, or Shel Silverstein.)
Do you want to see the new baby in real time, and talk to the parents, for free? Set up a Skype account. It’s simple to do following the directions on skype.com; if your computer doesn’t have a built-in camera and microphone, they’re easy to obtain. Once you’re up and running, arrange some time to watch and listen to your grandbabies while they watch and listen to you. It will help children become more familiar with you. And before you know it, you’ll be having real “face-to-face” chats with toddlers.
19. Go Play Outside
Spread a blanket outdoors. Let your grandbabies discover the smell of grass, the feel of the breeze in their hair, the sounds of birds, the colors of flowers. They don’t need to be entertained by anything called a toy. Instead, they can keep busy pulling up shoots of grass, climbing on your lap, reaching for your glasses, moving from one position to another, and just taking in the big beautiful outdoors. This very basic elemental, sensual experience of the natural world always remains new.
Originally published on Grandparents.com
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