Families with living grandparents are especially blessed. Each grandparent fills a unique role in a child’s development, providing both love and a window into family history. Honor the elders in your family this Grandparents Day, September 9, and all through the year. Try these suggestions to help build and maintain these special relationships.
1. Give relationships time and attention.
Like all relationships worth having, those between children and their grandparents require nurturing. Do your part by providing plenty of opportunities for interaction, both in person and otherwise. Even if you are divorced, the value your child can obtain from a grandparent is worth putting aside any disputes you may have with former in-laws.
2. Be clear about your rules.
Many grandparents will follow your parenting example and enforce your rules. To the few who try to impose their own child- rearing methods, explain that this undermines your authority and confuses the children. Ask for their cooperation, stressing how much you value their relationships with your child.
3. Keep ties strong with contact.
Grandparents who live far away require more creativity to maintain strong contact. Besides visits, use telephone calls, email, regular mail, and Internet video communication to keep ties strong. The more consistent and frequent the distant contact, the easier it will be to make the most of in-person visits.
4. Build memories that last.
Your children will outlive your parents, so it’s important to build memories that can sustain your children in the future. Encourage activities that will result in concrete reminders of time spent together. For suggestions, see the “Things To Do With Grandparents” sidebar.
5. Balance time.
Try to spend time together as an extended family, but balance it with one-on-one time between each grandchild and grandparent.
6. Keep the peace.
Don’t allow your disputes with parents or in-laws to cloud your children’s relationships with their grandparents. Children size people up with amazing accuracy, and besides, grandparents may well treat a grandchild better than they treat you.
7. Understand grandparents’ limits.
Help your children to understand that Grandma may tire more easily than they do, and that Grandpa may need assistance with walking or other basic skills. Don’t burden grandparents with child care beyond their physical or emotional limits.
8. Avoid jealousy.
A child who develops an especially close relationship to a grandparent may seem, at times, to prefer that grandparent to her actual parents. Be assured your child still loves you, just as your love for one child is undiminished by the birth of another.
9. Deal with sickness and death.
Our time with elderly relatives is limited and often complicated by physical and/or mental declines. Simple explanations about illnesses such as dementia, should emphasize the need for continued contact, love, and respect. Understand that children may mourn a death differently than adults. A child may suddenly develop behavior problems or become reclusive. Give children a chance to discuss sad feelings, and seek professional help in extreme situations.
10. When a grandparent has passed.
If your family’s grandparents have died, look for other seniors to “grandparent” your child. Older relatives, especially those without grandchildren of their own, may welcome the opportunity to develop a stronger relationship with your child. Consider programs offered by local retirement homes or libraries that match children with senior volunteers.
Things To Do With Your Grandparents
Celebrate Grandparents Day • Sunday, September 9
• Paint Party at the Botanic Garden, 2-4 p.m. Create an original work of art painted by your grandchild. Using canvas and recycled newspaper, we’ll complete this piece together. Supplies and canvas included in price: Members/$50, non-members/$55. Additional child/canvas, $25. Reservations required, 636-4126.
• Grand & Me Picture Frame Making at CMOM. Drop in all day and make a picture frame with your grandparents, or for them. Free activity with admission.
Create a Memory Book: Put together photos and souvenirs of times spent together; add written comments by both grandparent and child.
Mail: Handwritten letters, cards, and kid’s artwork are always a joy to receive the old-fashioned way, but email is great for frequent and quick exchanges.
Video Conferencing: Purchase inexpensive video cams for yourself and for grandparents who use computers. Download free software from skype.com, and make free video calls to other skype users anywhere in the world.
Outings: Concentrate on activities that promote conversation. Visits to the zoo or museum encourage more interaction than watching TV.
Sharon Nolfi, M.A.