Anoush Davies shares tips and advice on how to keep connected with family overseas in these unprecedented times.
Staying In Touch
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many families in Hong Kong were incredibly lucky, travelling the world, seeing expansive horizons and tapping into different languages and cultures around the globe. Unfortunately in these unprecedented times, many of us have found ourselves having to stay put.
Remember when our children used to spend Christmas and summer with their grandparents back home? Due to the recent lack of travel and face-to-face communication with extended family, it has become more challenging to keep children connected with grandparents and heritage cultures. Kids are not always happy to sit down and focus for any length of time to speak to their grandparents on the other side of the world, especially after a full day of school via Zoom. And, to be honest, grandparents are not always sure how to carry out a long distance conversation. The result of all this is a loss of connection.
How To Maintain Your Connection
Here are a few tips to help maintain and nurture the connection between your children and their extended family abroad.
- Set up a routine:
Make video calls part of your weekly schedule (as many times as works for your family).
For example, schedule a call with grandparents in Europe after lunch on Saturdays (when they wake up) and with Australian family on Tuesdays before dinner. Once this becomes part of your routine, it is easier to make sure everyone is on board and at home to participate.
- Split the times:
Separate the times when you are speaking with your (or your partner’s) parents and when your kids are talking to them.
With younger kids, this allows you to have a meaningful adult conversation without little ones climbing on your head (so, for example when the children are in bed) and for older kids this may give them freedom to speak unsupervised and choose their own topics.
- Prepare ahead of time:
If improvised conversation doesn’t seem to work out, some preparation might be needed ahead of time. We all want to avoid long awkward silences or kids being silly to attract attention so it’s a good idea to talk to the kids about what they would like to do or talk about.
Kids love action and structure so things like making arts and crafts or baking pizza together might be a good way to maintain virtual closeness across the distance. You just need to make sure you agree in advance what exactly they will be making or doing and when.
- Try bedtime stories:
This might be a great way to connect (and keep the minority language going if relevant). Here are two ways to do this:
Schedule weekly calls with grandparents right before bedtime and arrange for them to read a few stories. The only risk here is that it won’t necessarily calm the kids down and you might end up with children jumping on beds demanding more stories from Grandma!
Alternatively, ask grandparents to record half an hour or so of bedtime reading and send it to you as a WhatsApp voice message (or similar) whenever is convenient for them. Then, after reading and chatting with kids before bed you can “put Grandma (or Grandpa) on”.
In my family we now have a whole audio library with various Russian books read by grandparents. Our kids have been exposed to many masterpieces too, which helps them to expand their vocabulary.
- Keep the connection alive:
Even when not speaking directly with grandparents or extended family often, do your best to recount funny, culture specific moments from your childhood and share those with your children. Talk about your past trips together, cook some dishes that have cultural meaning and, of course, make some (non-date specific) future plans for when we can freely travel again.
Stay safe, stay connected, stay strong.
Anoush Davies is a parenting coach and mum to three active, bilingual boys. Through her practice UpBright she shares Positive Parenting strategies that can work with kids of all ages and make your home calmer and more harmonious. Anoush teaches regular parenting workshops and is also available for individual coaching and support.