Art projects, movies, and walks around the neighborhood are great, but it’s the special, original, even offbeat activities that bring you closer together. Personal traditions offer benefits that can help your connection prosper, according to Stephan J. Quentzel, M.D., JD. Dr. Quentzel is a psychiatrist and medical director for the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. “Ongoing traditions provide structure and a framework for bonding,” he says. “They also generate anticipation for this fun and meaningful time together.”
We found some clever and creative ways grandparents across the country are bonding with their grandchildren through personal traditions. Adapt some of these tips for yourself, or create some new family traditions of your own.
Fired up: Alice Kandell, New York City, N.Y., two grandchildren
My 3-year-old grandson, Sammy, loves reading about firefighters and fire stations, so about a year ago I started taking him to the local firehouse every so often. First, we stop at the supermarket to buy doughnuts or cookies for the squad. The crew talks with Sammy, flashes the lights for him, and sometimes lets him sit in a truck. I love that I’ve played a part in building on this interest he has, adding another dimension to it. And it’s also great to see him becoming aware of his community and connecting with the people around him.
The write impression: Dahlia Duran, Oak Brook, Ill., one grandchild
I started a journal for my four-year-old grandson even though he can’t write yet. When I sleep over, I ask him what he would like to remember about his day when he grows up, such as events that took place at his preschool. I write down his answer and he draws a picture on the following page. He loves it! I thought this was a good way to get him to tell me about his day, and when he’s older and learns to write, he can take over the journal.
Budding beauty: Carolyn Sieven, East Montpelier, Vt., three grandchildren
Growing up, we had a large vegetable garden that my parents maintained; later, as an adult, when spring came each year, I would dig and plant. Our vacation house in Vermont has a small flower garden that I try to plant each Memorial Day with things that will bloom when we are there in the summer. My 3-year-old granddaughter, Kate, loves to help with this; in particular, digging holes for the plants, watering them, and looking for earthworms to rescue — she finds them fascinating! The rewards for me cannot be counted; we have a wonderful bond that’s definitely enhanced by our gardening projects. She remembers every detail of what I tell her and what we do, and I can see that she likes to know that she’s participated in something special.
Swing time: Ruth “Mimi” Rutter, Pittsburgh, Pa., six grandchildren
I’ve been an avid golfer all my life, so I’ve shared this with my grandchildren, and several have started to show an interest in the game. Last year I had two grandsons visit for “Mimi’s Golf Camp,” a weeklong session I customized for them, featuring golf clinics with a pro, a private lesson, and short game practice with me. The finale was a nine-hole event we played, until we were chased in by a wild thunderstorm. We’ll do it again next summer — and we may even play 18 holes.
Tale-gating party: Kathleen Hammond, Seattle, Wash., five grandchildren
When I spend the night with my grandchildren, they like me to tell a story about my childhood instead of reading books to them before bed. Sometimes I also include stories about their father’s antics as a child, which they love even more! I’ve started to suggest that they each tell a few stories, too, about whatever they choose — and it’s amazing what they come up with. I enjoy seeing their storytelling skills expand, as well as their creativity and imagination.
Back-to-school daze: Fran Claro, Irvington, N.Y., 11 grandchildren
When I was in grade school, my grandmother always bought me a dress to wear on the first day of school. Fashions are way too varied today, so I buy school supplies for my grandkids and give them a family back-to-school party. Even the little ones reminisce at the party: ‘Remember the time we bought the wrong folders?’ Pencil cases and lunch boxes are major topics of discussion: Those emblazoned with TV and movie cartoon characters when they were in kindergarten, followed by superheroes, and now the latest for the older kids: environmentally-friendly brown paper bags. I’m pretty sure they’ll share these memories with their own kids, and I hope they will pass along the tradition.
1. Make a list of common interests you have with your grandchildren, as a starting point; then think about related activities that are simple, reproducible over time, and flexible enough to change or adapt as your grandchildren grow older.
2. Children tend to greatly value a connection to family roots, says Dr. Quentzel, so they’re likely to love hearing about a tradition you had as a child, and replicating it themselves.
3. Give older grandchildren real input into designing a tradition together — they’ll be more invested in it and will want to keep it going.
Start a new tradition by taking your grandchild on a yearly fishing trip. Learn more about Italian heritage and cooking in our Know Your Noodles article. And for helpful tips on how to bond with a new grandchild, click here.