No relationship is easy. We’ve all learned the best connections require a fair amount of effort. But when family members live on opposite sides of the country — or in various places 'round the globe — significant attempts must be made to maintain meaningful relationships.

According to an AARP report, about half of all grandparents live more than 200 miles away from their grandchildren. Aunts and uncles can be spread out even farther.

Don’t despair, now’s not the time to start feeling depressed. Extended family members are quite capable of providing a sense of stability that extends beyond the immediate household — no matter the distance.

Activities Are Key

Have you ever had the following conversation?

Adult: "How was your day?"

Child: "Fine."

Adult: "What did you do at school?"

Child: "Nothing."

Of course you have! Establishing a connection with a child, especially a young one, is challenging. If you think it's difficult to get a kid to open up in person, it’s pretty ridiculous to think they’ll pour their heart out via Skype.

It seems silly to suggest engaging in activities with kids when they are hundreds of miles away, but the suggestion isn’t as silly as you might think. Today’s technology has made it possible to accomplish just about anything you set your mind to.

Here are seven suggestions to try with your far-flung family.

1. Read Books

My mom recently bought two subscriptions of the same magazine. She has one delivered to her house and the other to mine. When my son’s copy comes in the mail, he Skypes Nama so they can read the articles and do the activities together.

A cheaper alternative would be to borrow the same books from the library. Grandma could read the book while grandchild follows along (it’s like an audio book, only better). Older kids can practice their literary skills by reading to Grandma; she can help the youngster sound out the words.

As kids get older, start a virtual book club. Read the same book and then argue its merits. The more family members who join in, the more lively the debate!

2. Gather Family Photos

It can be difficult for youngsters to remember the faces of family members who aren’t around very often. Give them some visuals to help match a face to a name.

Ask your family members (as many as you can get to participate) to take a self-portrait. Print the picture, glue it to a piece of sturdy paper, write the family member’s name at the bottom, and laminate it. Now you have flashcards to help get to know the family! If you’d rather, put the pictures in a photo album and flip through it periodically.

3. Make a Quilt

Make a cozy quit for your favorite family member to snuggle up with. Use bits of fabric that have special meaning to the child or family. For example, include his mom’s high school track t-shirt. Or, shorten the hem from your favorite dress and include a small piece. Add material with the family’s favorite sports mascot. See if you can include the youngster’s baby clothes. When you gift the quilt to the child, point out these special materials. Tell the story behind each fabric.

4. Go Birdwatching

Turn your kid into a bird lover. Encourage the child to take photos of any bird he or she finds unique. You do the same where you live.

Email the images back and forth. Talk about where you saw the bird and what was happening at the time. You can even give each feathered beast a name!

If you (or your child) doesn’t find birds particularly interesting, look for something else: butterflies, flowers, cars, etc.

5. Create a Family Mascot

Let your child pick out a small stuffed animal. Buy one for your child and send the other to the far-away family member. Give your new family mascot a name and take it with you on special outings. Have your youngster take pictures of the mascot (or with the mascot) at special places. Extended family members should do the same. Share these pictures and tell stories about what the mascot is doing at each place.

6. Have a Cooking Class

Find some kid-friendly recipes, or dig out old family favorites. Email each other, sharing the recipe and shopping list. Then get both family members together in the kitchen to cook together via Skype.

7. Play a Game

Challenge family members to a game. Thanks to technology, there are lots of ways to encourage a little family rivalry and trash talking!

Some suggestions include:

  • Entering a fantasy sports league
  • Playing chess (or other board games) online
  • Ask 20 questions via text message
  • Send puzzle pieces in the mail, a few at a time
  • Download the same app and see who can get the best score

The key to family bonding is creativity and an open mind. Your relationships will be as strong and as significant as you want them to be.

Do you have any other suggestions for long-distance bonding?