Technology for Grandparents:
Tips for Living Far Away from Grandchildren
**UPDATED: April 2020**
Are you living far away from grandchildren? And do you hate it? You’re not alone! I hear every day how there are so many grandparents living far away from grandchildren. . .and yes, they hate it! So, if you’re one of those grandparents, I’m willing to bet that you are always looking for ways to connect with those long distance grandchildren.
We have a modern garden full of technology that even we seniors can use! There are cell phones, computers, tablets, and all the software that is available to make use of those great things! I’m happy to say that much of it is user-friendly technology for grandparents and allows us to chat “in person” with those we love. Well. . .as much as video chat is “in person.”
However, there is one little caveat. . .we aren’t digital natives. And that, my friend, can cause a few weeds to spring up in our garden. So along with all the tech comes the frustrations. . .some from the tech itself and some that are just related to the fact that we are using tech to keep in touch.
Let’s get weeding. . .
How Do You “Chat” When Living Far Away From Grandchildren?
Skype. . .well. . .
Skype is by far one of the most well-known and often-used video chat options. And. . .if it’s working for you, great! However, it’s been one of the most frustrating options for us lately! It seems we’ve had more and more issues trying to use it successfully. Have you had problems with it too? It definitely has had some glitches recently. So, If you have experienced some issues trying to use Skype, I have some user-friendly alternatives for you!
(Just as a disclaimer, I am not representing any of these companies nor am I getting paid for any kind of review. I should also say that this is NOT a comprehensive list. There are many alternatives out there. These are just the ones that we have used personally. . .and they’re FREE!)
I’m starting with this one because it is well known. If you are an Apple junkie, then you are probably already familiar with Facetime. This one is a great alternative IF both ends have an Apple device. Apple does NOT make a Facetime product that works on Android or Windows. But, for iPhone, iPad or any Apple product, Facetime is a great solution!
Facebook Messenger for Kids
Just to be clear, I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I’m sure I’m not alone on this one. However, to video chat, Messenger offers a great solution whether you are on a phone or a computer. The good news is that it is accessible on all devices – Android, Windows or any Apple product. You can either jump on Messenger.com or use the Facebook Messenger app.
But. . .what if your grandchild is too young to be on Facebook?
A really good solution to that is to use the Facebook Messenger app for kids. The parents download the app and they have totally control over who their child is talking to. Putting the child’s name as a contact does not create a Facebook profile for them so it’s safe. However, once they are in there, your grandchild will show up in your contacts and you can video call them or visa versa.
This app comes with cute little graphics that they can put up on the screen that gives them hearts, happy faces, crying eyes, etc. They can do fun things while they talk to you. You know how kids love to see their own faces on the video chat!
This one is not well known but has been great for us! It works on all phones. You just download the free app and you’re ready to go! It’s pretty self-explanatory and easy to use. It has the capability to do a video call or send a video recording. This is the app I recommend the most for those living far away from grandchildren.
You only need to have a Google account to access Google Hangouts. Previously, Google had announced that Google Hangouts will be transitioning to Google Chat & Google Meet. Both Chat and Meet are functional but only available with G Suite. For now, you can still use Hangouts as is. It works much like other video chat applications. You just need a device with a camera and a microphone.
There’s a newcomer to the scene. . .and my new favorite. . .Welcome Zoom! At first glance, this seems to be for business only, but it’s a great tool for us grandparents! Downloading Zoom and setting up a meeting is so much easier than you may think. Plus, there are security measures that you can put in place to keep your get together with your grandkids safe and private.
There are two option for Zoom accounts – paid and free. Of course, free is the best, right? One of the drawbacks is that you can only do 40-minute meetings with the free account. However, one thing that most people don’t know is that the 40-minute restriction only applies to meetings of 3 or more. That means that if you are connecting with only one grandchild (or one family of grandchildren), you can talk and share as long as you want – no time limit!
Last, but not least, we like Marco Polo. This is an app for your phone – both iPhone and Android. It’s free and really easy to use. After you install the app on your phone, the app will start giving you suggestions for people to add based on your contact list in your phone or your Facebook friends list.
When you see your Contacts list, there will be a blue or purple rectangle next to each contact’s name. The blue rectangles say “Invite” and purple rectangles say “Chat.” The invite rectangles mean that the person does not already have the Marco Polo app and you can invite them to install it and chat with you. The chat rectangles mean that the person is already on Marco Polo and you can immediately send them a video chat message.
Marco Polo is not a face-to-face video chat, but instead a way to send short videos back and forth. So, you record a video and then it’s the other person’s turn to send you one back. The person can be watching live while you are recording the video and add reactions like a “thumbs up” or “smiley face” or a “heart.” They can also record a quick video reaction right in the middle of your recording.
We have had some great conversations back and forth with our grandkids! They LOVE this app!
(There are definitely others like Viber or What’s App, but I personally haven’t used those much. However, you are welcome to try others and leave us a message in the comments about what works or doesn’t work for you!)
Whatever program you use when you’re living far away from grandchildren, just make sure you talk to them regularly. You can build a close relationship. . .even across the miles. Here are some tips to make things go a bit smoother while chatting with those cute little grandchildren. . .
6 Tips to Video Chatting with Long Distance Grandchildren
Papa and I love to video chat with our Littles, and it’s the highlight of our day or week! Through lots of trial and error, we have found some things that make our video chat conversations more productive and enjoyable.
Let’s talk about some of the tips that will make things a bit smoother during a video chat call:
1. Time of Day
Pay attention to the time of day it is for your grandchild. When you’re living far away from grandchildren, you may not know their schedule very well. Don’t try to talk to them if they are in a rush to get out the door to soccer practice, if it’s nap time, or close to a meal time.
Hungry, tired, cranky kids are pretty hard to satisfy. Remember that if you try to talk to them and it seems like it’s a bad time, just arrange a different time, and don’t take it personally.
2. Attention Span
Judge the attention span of your grandchild based on experience or perhaps the suggestion of their parents. Don’t be disappointed if the call doesn’t last as long as you hope. One source reports that you shouldn’t expect your grandchild’s attention to be more than one minute per year of age up to about 6 years old. I have had a bit better luck than that. My long distance grandchildren are a bit active and energetic, but I can keep their attention longer than that. Hopefully, you can too. Just don’t expect too much! (Well, that is unless you are like Papa. He will do anything for a laugh and to keep the attention of the Littles!)
3. Look into the Camera
This one is really hard. Are you like me? Looking at yourself rather than straight ahead? I’m worried that my hair is wonky or that you can’t see my whole face or that maybe my bra strap is showing. Ha ha! I’m still trying to train myself to look into the camera and not at myself in the little square video in the corner. Looking directly at the camera helps you make eye contact, well. . .kind of. . .with your grandkids. One thing that has helped me is to move that little video window somewhere up near the camera. Just try to look into the camera as often as possible, because it will appear as though you are looking right at your little person.
4. Use a Laptop, Tablet or Cell phone (if possible)
This allows you to move around and play games with your grandchild. You can change the scenery or point out things in your surroundings. Small children may get distracted by the keyboard or mouse on a desktop computer anyway. So, encourage your grandchild to be on a portable device as well. The only exception to this is if you are doing something on the computer together like a game or painting a picture together. Those things are sometimes easier on a desktop computer.
5. Be Prepared
Because you can play a game, do some cooking, or create something together, be sure you have all your materials ready to go and available. You don’t want to risk your grandchild losing interest before you even get started. And trust me. . .it only takes a few seconds for your grandchild to get distracted.
6. Always Sign Off with Something Special
Always sign off with hugging the computer or blowing kisses or just high five the camera. You can even make up something that is special between you and your grandchildren. It’s fun to have your “own thing!”
Whatever it is, don’t forget to do it EVERY time. It will give your grandchild some consistency and they will know that it is the end of your time together. Plus, when you’re living far away from grandchildren, you need all the little extra special things you can have to help build those relationships.
So, whether you are living far away from grandchildren or across the street,. . . get talking! “Weed your technology garden” with these suggestions and cut the excuses.
When you get the hang of it, leave a comment below and tell us what do you that makes things easier when you video chat with the grandkids!
Cookies & Milk for Everyone!
P.S. If you would like some ideas of other things to do with your long distance grandkids, check out the 100+ Ways to Spend Time with Grandkids! It’s FREE and there are plenty of things you can do with grandkids both near and far away. Just sign up below to download it today!!