When my younger brother went to summer camp for the first time, I felt like a part of me was missing for the whole month. Sure, I was glad to be without his annoying nagging, messy tendencies, and insistence on constantly riding shotgun for a bit, but being away from him for so long just felt wrong after a while. Writing letters back and forth became my favorite way to keep in touch with him, and when I look back, I’m so glad I took those steps to bridge the gap.
Whether it’s for summer camp, because of a shift in living situations, or even for college, siblings get split up sometimes, not to mention cousins who may live across the country (or the ocean) from each other. Or as an aunt, maybe you want to foster your relationship with a little niece or nephew. Navigating that time apart can be a challenge for both kids and adults and seeking connection when you’re far away is complicated. How can family members stay partners in crime even when they’re miles apart? Luckily, technology, both new and old, provides opportunities for family members of any age to do what they’re meant to do: relate. Read on for strategies to keep siblings—or cousins—close even when they are geographically distant.
Set up a weekly FaceTime or phone call schedule
On the most basic level, siblings should be able to stay up to speed on each other’s lives through a consistent communication schedule. My sister is quite a few years younger than me and I love to hear about what she is up to when I talk to my mom. But when I get a chance to chat with her one-on-one, I find myself learning so much about her life that I know I never could through a parent. Giving siblings or cousins that solo time to catch up, chat, or even play over the phone is incredibly important in keeping their bond strong, and making a consistent schedule of it will help them know that this time they are spending together is a priority.
Write creative snail mail
Who said snail mail has to be boring? For kids without access to phones or tablets, sending fun letters is a fabulous way to encourage connection. Have your little one draw their sibling a picture, write them a story, or add fun stickers and decorations to their mail. Even the slightest touch of creativity will make physical letter-writing less tedious and more fun. Sending letters is not just for thank you notes to grandparents; it can also be a way to craft, doodle, and receive fun creations in return. Plus, who doesn’t love to get mail?
Text emoji riddles
This has been one of my favorite games to play with my younger sister whenever she gets a hold of my mom’s phone. I’ll receive a string of emojis, and from there, I’ll decipher a story from them, the results often being hilarious and endearing. When she sends me a strawberry emoji, a seal emoji, and an ambulance, I’ll let her know that the poor seal ate a poisoned strawberry and had to go to the hospital, as if the text is a game of emoji telephone. If kids can text, email, or message, get them to send emoji stories or riddles to each other and text back the stories. This is a quick, no-hassle way to ensure they keep in touch even when they may not have time to write full letters.
Virtually watch a show or movie together
If there’s one thing we can thank the pandemic for, it’s the invention of Teleparty. In case you’re unfamiliar, the Teleparty Chrome extension allows users to play shows and movies on Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ in synchronicity across time zones. This download is perfect for organizing movie nights or watch parties with long-distance friends, but it can also be used to keep kids in touch.
If your family’s favorite time for bonding is during movie night, this is the best way to keep up the tradition when physical distance is a factor. Sit your little ones in front of respective computers and allow them to enjoy a show or movie at the same time—or better yet, have them FaceTime simultaneously, and enjoy the ensuing commentary.
Start a book club
As a young adult, one of my favorite ways to stay connected to my parents is to read a book at the same time as them and chat about it in our weekly phone calls. Extend this to family members of any age by starting a kid-friendly book club—a low pressure, chapter-per-week way for kids to have something to talk about when they get a chance to call. For little ones, do a weekly FaceTime read-aloud of a picture or board book. My brother and I bonded over our love of the Harry Potter series when we were younger, and letting kids have those mutual interests even with geographical distance between them can help them stay in touch. Plus, it fosters a love of reading, which is always a bonus.
At the end of the day, all siblings, cousins, or friends who are like family deserve the chance to connect, no matter how old or where in the world they may be. Using these tools to help your little ones bridge the distance between them will keep family bonds strong no matter the circumstance.