When my granddaughter was 8, she and her parents lived in Berlin for a year. It wasn't easy having meaningful or even fun conversations with her when we were limited to a time certain and to a not-in-the-same-room factor. One couldn't just wait for an entry point to make its way known. I did discover some techniques but those were conversation openers for young children.
A friend, whose eldest grandchild is 12, says it is no longer easy to sit down with her and have a chatty conversation in which the grandmother asks her beloved granddaughter questions about the granddaughter's life. "She's a good kid," says this grandma,"but she's very pre-teen. She no longer likes the direct inquiry"--what are you reading? how's your best friend? are you going out for soccer this year?--an approach that worked well in earlier years.
Now, if she wants to know anything, this grandmother holds off until she picks her grandchild up from her weekly piano lesson. "There's something about talking to each other through the rear view mirror that makes it easier to ask questions," she tells me. For instance, when she heard from the piano teacher--who happens to be my friend's friend--that the grandchild greatly preferred to play works in minor keys, grandmother asked grandchild (via the rear view mirror) why music that was on the depressing side had more appeal. Her granddaughter was amenable to this intrusion into her inner soul and, through the rear view mirror of the car, answered quickly. "I like the music because it sounds scary."
The grandfather has found the same rear-view mirror, alone in the car situation his best chance to find out what his granddaughter is thinking, doing, reading, studying at school. Now the grandparents fight over who will pick their granddaughter up at piano lessons. They both covet the chance to talk to her in a way they can't when they're face to face.