Magic Happens When Grandparents Care for Grandchildren
For me, being a grandparent is not the same as being a parent. I am not the primary caregiver, but I do spend time with my grandchildren every week. Caring for them is not a question of just repeating what I did when I raised my own kids. I’ve come to think of being a grandmother as a new experience that offers great opportunities along with a bit of uncertainty. Here are some ways I believe grandparents can have unique connections with young grandchildren that foster them to learn and grow:
- Give your time - it's the greatest gift. A grandparent who stops everything and focuses on playing and chatting with a young child builds a lifetime of memories and helps your grandchild learn and grow.
- Play WITH your grandchild. Paint together, play board games together, play catch, play pretend. When you interact, you model good sportsmanship, good manners, good vocabulary and so much more.
- Tell your stories. Just because you told them to your own children doesn't mean they'll get passed down. Stories about our experiences are the vehicle we use to pass down our family and cultural traditions.
- Read the old, classic children's books you enjoyed. They are new to your grandchildren and you make them special because you have practiced those funny voices and dramatic flourishes that bring them to life.
- Share your passions. My dad taught my daughters how to fish and my mom brought them to art museums when I never had the interest. One became the nature counselor at summer camp and one minored in art history.
- Teach them your skills. Don't hurry them away when you are making or fixing something. They will love to be by your side handing you the screwdriver, helping you plant seeds, or stirring the batter - and they will learn important life lessons their parents may not have time to teach.
- Include them in conversations. Don't talk over their heads. Ask them questions and show them how to make good conversation by expressing an interest in other people. I love when my toddler grandson always turns to me in a restaurant and asks, "What you having for your dinner, Nannie?"
- Talk about your things. Do you have special collections, antiques, photo albums, old home movies or family heirlooms? Knowing about them, the stories behind them and why they are important to you will be fascinating and enriching for young children.
- Keep things the same. It means so much to young children when they know there will always be certain toys or other items at the grandparents' house. I looked forward to Grandma's house because I could count on the old wooden child-sized table and the checkers games we'd play, along with pretzel sticks and homemade coffee cake I didn't get at home. My children still talk about playing with the Russian nesting dolls at my mom's house year after year. Now my grandchildren go straight for the box of play cooking utensils at my house because it is something predictable that eases their transition from their house to mine.
- Be the cozy lap, the warm embrace, the listening ear and the relentless cheerleader that every child needs to grow up strong, caring and confident. Even if you can't always be close enough to touch, you can offer the same feeling by phone or computer video chat. What you do with your young grandchildren really does matter!
What role do grandparents play in your children's lives? If you're a grandparent - what are some ways you foster relationships and interact with your grandchildren?
Karen Nemeth is an author, speaker, and consultant on early childhood language development at Language Castle LLC. She wrote Basics of Supporting Dual Language Learners: An Introduction for Educators of Children From Birth Through Age 8. As a mother and grandmother, she has also developed expertise in toy selection. Karen@languagecastle.com