Don’t compete with a cell phone.
That’s what you learn when older grandkids visit over the holidays. They come for a meal — or for a few days — and conversations soon become interrogations. Why did you change your major? Are you dating anyone? What’s with the tattoo?
Sure, your well-meaning questions might lead to a deep conversation, but they probably won’t. Before long, the teens and college kids and Millennials pull out their cell phones and they’re gone. They may be sitting in your living room, but trust me, they’re gone — lost to their Instagram accounts, Twitter feeds and other social media obligations. Don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s them — and their devices.
This year, consider going old school. Set up a card table and chairs, open a jigsaw puzzle and wait.
No Pressure, No Worries
My mother-in-law in North Carolina sees her grandkids (ages 19 to 28) a few times a year when they visit for the holidays or pass through in the summer. She enjoys jigsaw puzzles and keeps one going in the corner of her living room. It’s like a magnet. Eventually, everyone takes a turn at the table with Grandma, companionably sorting through small puzzle pieces and putting them together. Conversations evolve organically.
It’s tough to text friends when you’re working a jigsaw puzzle with your grandmother. Matching puzzle pieces and talking is textbook multitasking. A puzzle is age-friendly. Even little kids can sort colors and look for edge pieces. You can talk, or not talk.
I wasn’t a puzzle person, but that’s changed since I’ve watched my mother-in-law work her magic. Last Christmas, I got a puzzle as a gift. I opened it and dumped the pieces at the end of our dining room table. When people got tired of Hallmark holiday movies, checking phones and rooting through the refrigerator, they sat down at the table and picked through puzzle pieces, working an hour or so at a time. We talked. We hunted for pieces. And we talked some more. We finished it a few days after New Year’s.
The power of puzzles isn’t surprising to Kathryn M. Kilpatrick, an NEO-based Geriatric Life Enhancement Consultant. All types of puzzles help build brain health and can provide a common ground for grandparents who want to connect with grandkids, she says.
You can pick up a jigsaw puzzle (500 pieces is good to start with) at any store that sells toys, and at bookstores and thrift shops.
If you need a bit more help connecting with grandkids, try Kilpatrick’s website and blog for sample conversation starters and word games at connectionsincommunication.com.
Marie Elium intends to buy a puzzle for herself this Christmas, possibly one with a garden theme.
Puzzled? Follow these Tips
Start with a 500-piece puzzle that has a scene or topic.
Flip the pieces over.
Sort into piles starting with all the edge pieces, then work by color: put all the grass-looking pieces together, the sky together, etc.
Assemble the edges and work toward the center.
Check the floor for missing pieces.
Take a break when you can’t make any matches. Come back later with fresh eyes.