Your child learns from your parents — so help them stay close.
When most of us think about a happy childhood memory, a special connection with a grandparent often comes to mind. For me, it's making and eating "snow pudding" during the first snowfall of each year with my grandfather Anderson. With my own two grandsons, Adam, 3, and Owen, 5, it's the simple things — building tents out of beach towels or searching the night sky for falling stars — we treasure most.
Grandparents today report spending a lot of time with their grandkids. And there are a lot of grandparents out there — nearly one-third of the adults in the U.S. qualify for the title of grandma or grandpa. Their average age? A young 50! So the stereotype of a white-haired granny rocking in her chair or baking cookies has clearly changed. Many grandparents are still involved with careers, traveling, and community activities.
Although their image has changed, grandparents still hold an important and unique position within families; they are the link to traditions, culture, and family history. Interestingly, recent studies have shown that the relationship between grandparent and child is second in emotional importance only to the parent and child bond.
Just for Grandparents and Kids
The special relationship your parents share with your child provides a sense of continuity between the past and the future in an ever-changing world. Seniors are like living history lessons: They can describe what it was like before the Internet or teach timeless hobbies, like sewing and woodworking.
When grandparents pass family history along (through stories and old photographs), it helps build your child's pride in where he comes from. Children are also intrigued by what their parents were like as kids: What was it like when Dad hit his first Little League home run? Did Mommy really climb trees better than the boys?
Connecting with her grandparents allows your child to develop a healthy respect and a positive attitude toward older people. It works both ways: Kids give grandparents valuable treasures such as a healthy focus in life that helps keep them physically, emotionally, and mentally active. Grandma can learn to see life through fresh eyes as her grandson shows her new things, like how to play a computer game or sip through a zany twisted straw. Each validates the other as a teacher and a student.
Easy Ways to Stay Connected
Whether your child sees his grandparents every day or less frequently (25 percent of grandparents see their grandchildren once every few months because of distance), you will do well to nurture this precious relationship. Pass these suggestions along to your parents and in-laws to help them build a strong, long-lasting relationship with your child, whether they live near or far:
Be involved in your grandchild's school life. Arrange to take him to school, or pick him up some afternoons, if possible. You might also ask his teacher for ways to help out in the classroom, such as by reading books to the children or helping at snack time. At the park after school, throw the ball around, or push him on the swings.
Listen to his wishes. If your grandchild wants to go for a walk in the woods, spend time with him planning a special hike.
Do the unexpected. Eat pizza for breakfast in the yard, or have strawberry shortcake for dinner. Create "I Love You" valentines in November.
Establish rituals. Every Fourth of July, birthday, or other family celebration, measure your grandchild's height on the closet door, and compare it to his dad's at the same age. Or, plant a special garden with perennials and watch them grow every year.
Make messy stuff together. Mix up some gushy, hands-on play stuff, such as play dough or goop.
Introduce games from your own childhood. Follow a white string "spider web" wound around, over, and under the furniture to find a surprise. Or teach your grandchild an old-fashioned card game like Go Fish.
Telephone regularly. Call on the same day, at the same time (say, Saturday mornings at 8), so children can look forward to the chat. Do your homework first — know friends' names, favorite activities and television shows, so you can ask about them.
Use technology to stay in touch. Kids like getting e-mails with silly jokes, stories, and even fun recipes. Fax secret messages, or invite your grandchild to fax drawings. Kids love using digital cameras, so encourage your grandchild to take lots of photos that his parents can post online for family viewing.
Send an old-fashioned love letter. Make snail mail special by adding stickers or cool stamps. Try sending postcards made from photos of your travels or a special activity you shared on a recent visit (like washing the dog with your grandchild). Add a personalized award (PDF) or coupons for a special treat — try this printable template (PDF). Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope to increase your chances of getting a reply from one of the most special letter-writers in the world. Also try these letter starters (all PDFs):
- Did I ever tell you about the time your dad...
- Did I ever tell you about the time your mom...
- Guess what happened today? (suitable for kids or grandparents)
- Thanks for coming to visit (suitable for kids or grandparents)
Susan A. Miller, Ed.D., a veteran teacher and director, is a professor of early childhood education at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, and author of the Problem Solving Safari series of teaching guides.