The grandparent-grandchild relationship can be filled with deep love, joy and connection. But these strong bonds don’t just happen by accident — they require nurturing just like any other relationship.
The majority of Americans — 69% — say it’s very important for grandparents and grandkids to have a close relationship, according to a recent YouGov survey. However, nearly a quarter of respondents reported that their grandparents have been not very or not at all influential in their lives.
If your relationship with your grandkids isn’t as close as you’d like it to be, read on. Below, therapists share some of the most significant things grandparents can do to fortify the bond with their grandkids.
1. Take the initiative.
Don’t fall into the trap of sitting back and waiting for your grandchild to come to you. You’re the adult here (or at least the more senior one) which means you have both “the opportunity and responsibility to reach out by taking initiative to be part of that grandchild’s life,” said Dallas marriage and family therapist Sarah Epstein. Show them you care by being proactive about building the relationship.
“That can look like attending the child’s sports game, calling the grandchild when they come home from a trip or discussing shared movie and book interests,” Epstein said. “Children want to feel like the adults in their life want to spend time with them. Grandparents have the powerful opportunity to show up as an adult that truly delights in their grandchild’s life.”
2. Show curiosity about their interests.
Taking time to get to know who your grandchild really is is one of the most impactful things you can do as their grandparent. It will help them “feel heard, valued, and understood, creating a deep emotional connection between you,” said clinical geropsychologist Regina Koepp, founder of the Center for Mental Health & Aging.
One way to start? Practice active listening. “This means giving your grandchild your full attention, making eye contact and genuinely responding to what they’re saying,” Koepp said.
It’s true that your grandkids are growing up in a world that’s far different from the one you were raised in or even raised your children in, Epstein said. Approach these differences with a sense of curiosity and try to withhold judgment.
“The children’s interests may seem strange, the trends may feel unfamiliar and the language hard to follow,” she said. “Grandparents will build closeness with their grandchildren by showing up with curiosity rather than judgment.”
That doesn’t mean you need to be well-versed in every last detail of their favorite video game or able to rattle off the starting lineup of their favorite sports team. But being open-minded about their hobbies goes a long way.
“Children will pick up on being judged and create distance,” Epstein said. “Those grandparents who can show some curiosity and engage their grandchild on their own terms will find that grandchild much more excited to spend time together.”
3. Find activities you can do together.
Engaging in shared activities and experiences with your grandkids is a powerful way to strengthen the relationship, said Miami neuropsychologist Aldrich Chan told HuffPost.
“Whether it’s playing games, going for walks, or pursuing common interests, these shared moments create lasting memories and provide opportunities for learning, laughter and connection,” he said. “Engaging in activities that cater to the grandchild’s age and interests shows that the grandparent values their time together and is invested in their happiness.”
Plus, doing things your grandkid likes to do shows that you’re not only willing to enter their world, but are interested in learning more about it, Koepp said.
4. Share family stories and traditions.
As a grandparent, you are a “living link from the present to a family’s past,” Koepp said. You can “provide a sense of cultural heritage and familial history, connecting grandchildren with their ancestors and give them a sense of belonging and identity.”
Sharing family stories — either your own or ones that have been passed down to you — with your grandkids can instill a sense of pride in them, teach them about their background and help them understand how they fit into this legacy, Koepp said.
“Children want to feel like the adults in their life want to spend time with them.”
“You can also do this by sharing and maintaining family traditions, whether for holidays, birthdays or meals on the weekend,” she said. “Family traditions can provide grandchildren with cherished memories and a sense of belonging. These rituals, big or small, become a significant and comforting part of a child’s life, creating lasting bonds and shared experiences that can be passed through the generations.”
5. Celebrate their milestones and achievements.
It’s important to recognize and celebrate your grandchild’s wins, no matter how big or small. It’s a powerful way to show how proud and supportive you are, Chan said.
“Whether it’s applauding academic accomplishments, sports achievements, artistic talents or personal growth, acknowledging and celebrating these moments can boost a grandchild’s self-esteem and create cherished memories,” he said.
You can also do this by attending recitals, games, shows and other events to show your support whenever possible.
6. Nurture the relationship with your own child.
If you want a better relationship with your grandkids, don’t forget to keep working on the relationship you have with your own kid (i.e. their parent).
“When grandparents and parents get along, family gatherings can occur more frequently, offering more opportunities for grandparents and grandchildren to bond,” Epstein said. “Building a relationship with the parents also builds stronger multi-generational bonds that help families weather rough patches more effectively.”