Many bilingual children have at least one side of their extended family living fairly far away, often on the “other side of the world”. Visits are possible perhaps only once a year, or even more seldom if at all, so it is essential to find other ways to connect.
Maintaining those long-distance relationships to grandparents, cousins and other relatives as well as friends is not always easy, so I decided to make it the topic of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival this month. I am overjoyed to have received so many great tips and stories from my wonderful blogger friends – please make sure to check out the full posts via the links!
We may not be able to travel to visit family and friends as often as we would like, and they may not have the opportunity to come and see us that frequently, but visits are still top of the list for nourishing family bonds.
Frances from Discovering The World Through My Son’s Eyes has stuck to the agreement she made with her mother when she moved – they visit each other every other year. Diana from LadydeeLg makes at least one trip every year and the extended family always comes together for Christmas.
In her post Galina from Trilingual Children takes her two kids to Russia for the summer – “mama, they all speak Russian!” comments her son, and I am sure Galina’s heart hit an extra beat! Audrey from Españolita … ¡Sobre La Marcha! describes the fun and precious moments of her family’s visit to see her in the U.S. – I love how she decided to hang back to allow the grandparents to show off their grandchild.
Amanda from Expat Life (with a Double Buggy) fondly remembers her childhood visits to her family, and her children now have a close relationship with their English grandparents – despite the geographical distance. You don’t have to live close to be close – on the other hand, living close does not guarantee a close connection.
Visits are not only great boosters for a child’s language skills, but help to create a bond for life!
When we cannot see our extended family in person, thankfully, technology can come to the rescue. Skype and FaceTime are the applications which get most mentions, but do not forget Google Hangouts, Oovoo, WhatsApp and other similar options.
For Anna from Russian Step By Step for Children Skype has been the means to keep her “kids close to their Russian family, even when they are far away”. Ebi from Wabi Zakka makes sure that her baby daughter is also “on the phone and camera so that the grandparents can see how she is growing up despite living so far away”. Audrey managed almost daily FaceTime chats with her sister so her child immediately recognized her aunt when she came to visit.
Amanda from The Educators’ Spin On It has collected many great tips on how to make a Skype session interesting for a small child. Ilze from Let the Journey Begin arranged for her daughter to meet up with “grandma in a box” and Galina’s parents have been helping her by doing “virtual babysitting”.
Adam from Bilingual Monkeys suggests that you can have your child and a relative or friend read the same book, and then discuss it together over Skype. Great idea to keep the discussion going! Diana reminds us that we can use Google Hangouts to connect relatives and friends in several locations, and that WhatsApp can be used for group chats as well.
It is great to have some plans for your online video call, but also consider for example simply leaving the connection open at the breakfast table. Depending on the time difference your kids will be able to share their morning meal with their distant family (or lunch, dinner, evening meal … depending on the time difference).
If your child is big enough to have the patience to sit still, allow him or her to do at least part of the calls alone. As adults we too often steer the conversation and the children may not be able to express themselves freely.
Live calls are fantastic, but the advantage of recordings is that family members can watch and listen again and again, independent of time zones. Video clips, voice messages, emails and texts are also important.
Care packages, letters, cards
Whatever current technology can offer, I doubt it can ever replace the thrill of receiving a real postcard or letter, not to mention a parcel a.k.a. care package.
Ebi describes how she savours “everything- from the stamps to the handwriting to the crumpled newspaper packaging”, and Frances appreciates all the materials she has received to help her children with their Spanish. Annabelle and Diana have some great suggestions on what to include in the care packages.
Photographs are an excellent way of remembering the extended family. Keep pictures of the extended family around your home, print those pictures (!) and put them in albums which you can enjoy with your kid.
Technology helps us share pictures of precious moments with the help of for example Facebook, Dropbox, Line or Snapfish.
Olga from Milk, crafts, and honesty shows you how to make a gorgeous family album which will keep your kiddos captivated for hours on end. Esther has some beautiful ideas for photo-boards and lookbooks to showcase your loved ones in an interesting way.
We should not forget a very important part of nourishing and cherishing those all-important relationships – the common language!
Having a common language with your grandparents makes the bond so much deeper and easier to maintain when your child grows up. Small children usually have no problem communicating even without a common language, but as kids get older, this is no longer a given.
Olga from European Mama writes how having a common “secret language” is a great way to affirm family ties – sharing your native language and culture with your children also teaches them to feel proud about their heritage.
Having grandparents and other relatives support when raising children to speak a minority language is vital and Annabelle has some useful tips to keep in mind: Repeat, Connect, Ask and Show support.
Adam describes his family’s efforts to nurture the minority language and ensure that his children can communicate with their grandparents in English. He also makes a very important point that we should all remember “our time for building bonds and memories with grandparents is limited” – the time for it is now!.
As Audrey so beautifully puts it: “Language is love” and when we pass on the family languages to our children they will “have the words to reciprocate that love.”
Dear reader, I hope you have enjoyed our stories and tips – let’s keep in touch!
A big thank you to all my blogger colleagues for your contributions – as always, you deliver!
Have you got a blog? Would you like to take part in the Raising Multilingual Children blogging carnival? If yes, please do visit The Piri-Piri Lexicon website for further information and instructions on how to sign up.