Great Pointers For Grandloving

One of life’s great adventures is having an opportunity to interact with your very own grandchildren who are the tangible tension of your family tree.

The bonding that takes place between a child and a grandparent is second only to that of a parent and child and, in some cases, may exceed it.

Somehow kids understand that their grandparents love them for themselves, not just because they are expected to.

And grandparents bring a different perspective to the life of a young person. They, too, transmit culture and provide a sense of connection with the past, with origins.

Here are some loving pointers especially for grandparents.

When Your Grandchild Comes to Visit

1. A week before your granddaughter is set to arrive at your home, send your photos to your granddaughter. Imagine she and her father cuddled up at bedtime looking over the snapshots of you and other family members, pets, and places she might see when she comes over to your place.

2. Cancel all but the most necessary of your own day-to-day activities so you can spend as much time as possible with them.

3. Keep their pictures, gifts they've given you, 'treasures' they've left from previous visits out, so they know they are in your thoughts when they're not with you.

4. Naps and quiet times are important. We all tire easily when there's a change in our normal routines.

5. Finally your grandchild arrives. You're excited beyond words, and maybe a little teary thinking of other greetings and departures. How can you make this the best visit ever?

You see that little bundle or giggling dynamo after a long separation and you feel an almost irresistible urge to rush right up and give your cuddliest hug. What could be wrong with a little squeeze from Grandpa or Grandma? It seems so harmless, and your heart is certainly in the right place. But imagine how you'd feel if a giant, eager person who didn't see you so often came rushing up to you after a harried day or so of traveling. Unfortunately, expecting a big hug and kiss in return is unrealistic (though magical when it happens!). Moreover, your understandable eagerness can truly upset your young grandchildren and delay that magical moment when they run into your arms of their own accord.

Instead of approaching your grandchild quickly, try a slower pace. A simple warm smile can work wonders to make a successful first connection with your grandbaby. With a toddler or preschool-age grandchild, you can experiment with crouching down to his or her level. Talk about the trip, about something you both see nearby, or about a small toy you've brought along just for this purpose.

When You Visit Your Grandchild

Need some ideas to keep your relationship with your grandchild fresh during your visits to his or her home? Read on.

What do parents and grandchildren hope grandparents will be like during a visit? One grandparent said, “Having a good time is a rule!” and “Take pictures!” It's true - ask any preschool-age grandchild what they wish for when Grandma and Grandpa come and they will undoubtedly launch into an adorable and fantastical story that includes the special treats and traditions you share. They simply want to have fun and experience all the unique aspects of you. Perhaps, too, your little ones will be wise enough to anticipate the joy of looking back on the visit with photos and mementos.

Pets and Your Grandchild

Pets and young children make for one blind date that requires plenty of chaperoning. Pets need time to warm up to a new person in the house especially one who can command the sort of attention your grandchild does from you. Older dogs and cats may not appreciate the noise and chaos your small grandchild brings into the home, and younger pets may have not yet developed the self-control to simply move away from a child who doesn't yet understand the difference between a pat and a pinch.

Your role in this new relationship is to protect both your pet and your grandchild. A child should be strongly encouraged to move slowly toward the dog or cat and to pat it gently. (Children who like to pinch or poke can be shown how to stroke the animal with two outstretched fingers.) If the pet moves away, protect it by not allowing the child to chase it, and praise both the pet and your grandchild if they find a way to interact gently.

An infant or toddler must never be left alone in the same room even with what seems to be a trustworthy pet as the outcome could be tragic. Preschoolers need supervision as well. But you will have to decide whether you need to be directly involved in their play or only a close observer.

A Recipe for a Warm and Loving Visit

What do you get when you mix two cups understanding, one cup kindness, and a generous dollop of good humor? A grandparent who's ready to accept grandchildren regardless of how grumpy or outlandish they can be.

Visiting grandchildren is unlike any other sort of family experience, and it requires that grandparents be as flexible and relaxed as possible. Grandbaby Sara might be teething, four-year-old grandson Keith might be up with nightmares each night, and your little grandtoddlers may well spend part of your visit peering at you over big toys and Morn and Dad's protective arms. Not only that, but as the visitor, you'll want to realize that you are entering your grandchild's world. The best visits, it seems, result from grandparents offering the same respect and consideration to their grandchildren that they hope their grandchildren will grant when they stay with them.

Building this rapport will not be as easy as wiping your feet at the door or always offering to help prepare meals - in fact, these niceties have much more to do with your love and affection for a grandchild's parents. Instead, you'll want to construct, block by toy block perhaps, your role as one who appreciates and enjoys the world as it seems to your grandchild. You might start by asking gentle questions of your little ones about the routines that involve them. “Where does this toy go?” you might ask, as you help to pick up toys before lunch. “How does this work?” you inquire strategically, as you try out the unfamiliar dishwasher or coffee pot. Our toddler Nick loves it when his grandparents ask him how to find things around his house - and it's a great way to make a true friend of any little despot.

Perhaps the biggest bonus of establishing this respectful rapport with your littlest grandchildren is that they will begin to trust you deeply. Your priceless reward will be the moment when your grandtoddler, with wonder in his face, takes you aside to tell you a “secret” or a little story about his teddy bear - or when your preschooler grandchild tells you about his favorite teacher with a shy smile. What a wonderful feeling for both of you - and a great foundation for the days when your older grandchild has more weighty matters to discuss.

Some Grandparenting Tips

  • Rule-making is not a grandparent's task.
  • Grandchildren need your attention and interest in their activities.
  • Grandchildren need to hear of their parents' childhood and youth.
  • Speak to the parents about your concerns - but never in the presence of the children.
  • Celebrating special days creates memories and continues traditions.
  • While children are small, help them explore their world.
  • Offer your time to assist without interfering.

Getting Messy, Getting Close

Where do your grandchildren spend most of their time? If your grandchildren are younger than one year, your answer is likely to be “on the floor” or “in the sand or mud outside.” If they're between one and two, the answer might be “climbing into drawers,” “on a tricycle,” or “into your cupboards.” And if they're ages three to five, you might respond, “on a bicycle,” “on play structures outside,” or “drawing at a table.”

The point is that young children see and interact with the world in a different way than do most adults. For one thing, they're only a fraction of your height. What's important to a two or three-foot-high person? Things on or near the floor or ground, of course. And that means that to be interesting to this lovable little person you are going to need to get down near the floor as well.

Bring those comfy jeans and cuddly sweats, swear off chairs for awhile – and welcome to the land of child-oriented love.

One thing you'll notice when you get down where the children are is that the rules can be a bit different down there. First and most important, this altitude is your grandchild's territory, and you'll want to be cautious about closing in on your little one too soon. For any child under the age of five, it's a good idea to place a toy or game between you at first so that your presence doesn't seem too overwhelming.

You might even want to bring something unique for this moment - such as a new book or a small toy your child, the parent, once had. Play with the toy or game yourself, and talk aloud or make sound effects that make it inviting. When the child joins you, continue as though nothing unusual is happening and wait for your grandchild to initiate more direct communication. After that smile, direct look, or “How's this, Grandpa?” you can play as you wish, knowing that you made the transition an easy one for your grandchild.

People who have written to us agree with this approach. One grandparent wrote, “Long-distance grandparents shouldn't expect hugs and kisses right away when seeing a grandchild they haven't seen in a while. The child might be wary of people he perceives as strangers. Let the child get to know you again and feel comfortable. Then the hugs and kisses will come.” Another added, “Take time to get close to them gradually so they're not frightened by a strange face.” Child development experts have found that this uncertainty about unfamiliar faces can peak in many children around the ages of eight months, then again at one year; but it's best to be careful with any small child. We all know that few children “follow the book” exactly when it comes to physical and emotional development.

It's a Small World, After All

Being a grandparent - especially a visiting grandparent - can be much more than playing with toys on the floor, however. You'll want to acquaint yourself with many of the other places, people, and events that are part of your grandchild's day as well. Your interest and involvement in the day-to-day aspects of your grandchild's life are the essential ingredients of a dynamic friendship. These are activities that you couldn't know about without being at her home, and they will help you nurture your relationship with your grandchild when you are communicating long-distance. If you know your grandchild's best buddies by name, had a funny experience at the zoo together, and can remember his or her favorite ice cream flavor, it will make your notes and phone calls that much more meaningful.

Till Next Visit

The wonderful thing about visits between a grandparent and a grandchild is that they never really have to end. So put away those tissues, grandparents. Although you might live far away, long-distance communication can keep you close.

One of the nicest ways to get this long-distance connection off to a great start is to slip notes in your grandchild's socks, shirts, books, etc., before they're packed up to go. This way, they'll have surprise messages from you to discover for weeks to come. The important thing is to realize that each day brings a new opportunity for closeness with your little one, and that distance will never keep you apart.

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