Tom Merton—Getty Images/Caiaimage
By Carey Wallace
July 13, 2015

Whether you’re a family who sees grandparents all the time or just gets together for a big blowout family gathering during vacations, you probably think your kids know their grandparents pretty well.

But even in extended families that are very close, says Dan Zadra, author of My Grandma: Her Stories, it’s easy for stories from the older generations to get lost.

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So how can parents help kids take the initiative to really get to know their grandparents, whether over summer or on more frequent visits?

Elementary age kids, Zadra says, can start with questions about things that “all kids from all generations have in common: What was your room like? What was your neighborhood like? What was your first pet? Those things are easy to ask, and get rich answers. And they bring the generations closer together.”

Middle school kids, says Zadra, can ask more complex questions, like, “Who was your best friend? What was your first job?” And they can pose questions with “emotional sophistication,”as Zdra calls it: “What would you like to do over if you had a chance? What did you learn from it?”

High school kids can work at being active listeners, according to Zadra. Instead of questions with a simple yes or no answer, parents can coax them to ask open-ended questions that encourage people to tell a story. Parents might also want to encourage high school kids to “get comfortable with space” after they ask a question, says Zadra, to let the person they’ve asked “think it through.”

And at every age, Zadra says, kids should learn to look for something beyond “the first answer.” Instead, parents can teach them the old journalistic tick of the follow-up, “What do you mean? Can you give me an example? Why is that?”

When you do that, Zadra says, “you get a completely different answer.” And parents might learn something they didn’t know about their parents too.

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