GRAND Magazine - July/August 2018 - 26

grandparent legacy

How to read the clues
to our grandchildren
BY JERRY WITKOVSKY

W

hen Kaitlyn sat on the couch, seemingly uninterested
in anything around her, "that was a surefire sign that
she wanted to talk about something personal," said her
grandma, Barbara.
Ryan spent the entire baseball game outing with his grandpa
talking about the types of reeds he uses for his saxophone. This
made his grandpa Cy feel dejected. "I don't even know what a reed
is," he said. "We had nothing to talk about."
The things our grandchildren don't say out loud. The things they
do say. These are the breadcrumbs they leave scattered around
them that lead us into their world. When we misinterpret or simply
overlook their silent messages, we miss a huge opportunity to connect. The secret, you see, is in reading the clues.
It's not our fault that we "USAmerican" grandparents often fail
to notice the cues our grandchildren give us on how to enter their
world. Culturally, people in the US are what's called "low context."
High versus low context in communication refers to how we glean
meaning in different situations. In high context cultures, such as
Japanese, the meaning is implicit in the communication. It includes
the actual words but relies heavily on context, history and nonverbal cues. For low context cultures, the meaning is in the words right
before you.

"

Our grandchildren are shouting clues
to their world all the time. It's in their
body posture. It's on their school
website, in their activities.

26 GRAND

MAY JUNE 2018

Barbara was able to see the full picture with her granddaughter.
When she had asked her "what's wrong" five minutes earlier, Kaitlyn
had quipped "nothing." But when she sat on the couch, no phone
in hand, Barbara stopped what she was doing, sat down to join
Kaitlyn, and waited for her to start talking.
Cy, on the other hand, left his outing with his grandson feeling frustrated. While Cy focused on what he thought would be fun (the baseball
game) and his lack of knowledge (about reeds), he could have asked
questions to engage his grandson. "What is a reed?" "What happens if
you try to play the saxophone without one?" "What's your favorite kind
of music?" "What are you learning to play right now?" "I wonder if anyone's ever played saxophone instead of organ at the baseball game."
You get the idea. They could still be talking a week later!
For Cy and all grandparents, here are four tips to broaden your
context and find the clues to jumpstart conversation with your
grandchildren:

1. Think about the "before and after."

We never talk to our grandchildren in a vacuum. Whether it's by
phone or in person, our grandchildren come to our moment of
interaction in the context of something else. Maybe they have a big
test at school tomorrow.
As their biggest fan, we just want to wish them luck! But any
distraction might feel, to them, like they are being derailed.
If we know this, there may be other ways to connect: Send a "good
luck" text rather than a call; Mail a care-package of treats to arrive the
day before the big test; order their textbook at the beginning of the year.
Read along and offer to help them study (I actually did that one for my
granddaughter Merite's history class. I learned a thing or two as well!)
Continued on next page



GRAND Magazine - July/August 2018

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