The Grandparent Effect: How to Encourage Your Kids to Hang Out with Their Elders

by ParentCo. March 11, 2017

Boy playing with grandfather

Everybody knows Mr. Miyagi is the real star of "The Karate Kid". Unless you were an adolescent boy when it debuted, then that award goes to Elisabeth Shue. Mr. Miyagi, however, is the wise one. He’s tough, he’s disciplined and he’s principled. Where would Daniel-san be without his mentor? Lost in a sea of 80s bullies, no doubt. Kids need to spend time with the older generation for a multitude of reasons and they aren’t the only ones to benefit. Mr. Miyagi got something out of it too. We could all stand to view life from another perspective. It’s not exactly Freaky Friday, but spending time with someone from another generation reminds you that there are other vantage points than your own. Grandma remembers a time when no woman dared to wear pants while her granddaughter introduces her to the iPad and FaceTime. It’s a fair exchange of concepts. So in the name of intergenerational unity, here are a few ideas to help your kids connect with their elders:

Pen pals

Where email and texts offer convenience, snail mail brings charm. Camp was never more fun than when the counselors came around with the mail call. The physical act of writing a letter, sealing the envelope, and applying postage takes time. Nothing teaches patience like waiting for a letter in the mail. Nothing feels quite as victorious as checking that slot and finding something addressed to you. There’s just something about seeing your name and recognizing the handwriting that feels bigger and better than an email marked “read.” These letters also have a knack for turning into treasured mementos in years to come.

The family tree

History, particularly family history, can be both entertaining and surprising. It’s fun to watch your son’s face when he realizes that he inherited his red hair from his great great grandfather who immigrated from Ireland or to see your daughter connect the dots from her middle name back to her grandma. Printable family trees are easy to find and free and provide a puzzle that’s perfect for grandparent and grandchild to solve together.


Not everyone has a grandparent still living, but volunteer opportunities abound in senior citizen centers, especially around the holidays. This can provide the perfect chance for your child to get comfortable around and invest in the older generation. Encourage your son or daughter to volunteer to read with a buddy or play checkers or work in the community garden. You can do it as a family. It’s amazing what one hour can do for both the one visiting and the one being visited.

Hidden skills

You know that secret recipe for the best oatmeal cookies in the universe that your mother will not share with you? I bet she’ll give it to her grandkids. You know that coin collection that you’ve successfully managed to avoid having your father explain to you? I bet your kid might think it’s worth a listen. The Baby Boomers and those before them hold a series of skills and interests that might just have skipped a generation or two. Let them share their knowledge. Let them explain the names of birds and flowers and what cooking looked like before microwaves. You never know what it might spark in your own child.

Family grandparents' day

Schools across the country typically celebrate grandparents in late summer/early fall. There’s usually a program with singing and refreshments to follow. What if your family set your own day? What if you decided April 30th or October 15th was the perfect time to honor those grandparents and special friends? Bake a cake, send more mail, buy flowers and sing songs. It’s the reason we decide half birthday parties are fun. It’s the power to make one more day and one more person feel special. You’d be amazed what happens when you help your kids look back, slow down and connect with generations of times gone by. So, mail a letter, make a garden, chart a history and visit someone who saw the world before it went into cyberspace.



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