Grandparents are very important in children's lives. Increasingly, many grandparents today are helping to raise their grandchildren and mind them on a regular basis. Building loving and responsive relationships and providing a strong sense of security are some of the ways grandparents can help to nurture their grandchildren. The following list includes other tips and ideas for positive grandparenting:
Literacy and learning
- Read to grandchildren on a regular basis: relax together, read their favourite book or your favourite book, read everything from magazines and newspapers to street signs and the packaging on products in your supermarket trolley.
- Tell stories: stories from your childhood or stories and funny anecdotes from their parent's childhood. Keep the family history, traditions and culture alive.
- Monitor exposure to television, play stations, computers and computer games: if caring for older grandchildren, monitor videos and music where appropriate.
- Take out membership for your grandchildren at your local library.
- Rummage through op shops for jigsaw puzzles and other assorted board games, and spend time playing as a family.
- Tasks such as washing the dishes, digging the vegetable patch or helping to care for a pet are all valuable learning experiences for a child. These times are great for bonding with your grandchild, and spending one-on-one time teaching and passing on expertise.
- Accompany older children to their school concerts or special days at school, or take time out to sit and watch them play sport or enjoy their chosen hobby.
- If the children you are caring for are school age, put some time aside if possible to help out in their classroom.
- Encourage children to do regular tasks and take responsibility for tidying the room they sleep in or toys they play with.
- Have fun cooking together, preparing a meal, or shopping for ingredients.
- When buying toys, look for toys that stimulate a child's imagination or toys that can be used in a variety of ways e.g. blocks, balls, puzzles etc.
Health, nutrition and safety
- Prepare nourishing meals and keep snacks and take-away food to a minimum.
- If caring for children (including babies and toddlers) in your own home, make sure the environment is as childproof as possible. In particular, make sure poisons are out of reach, garage and shed doors are locked, and potentially hazardous substances and objects are kept out of sight. Cover power points and barricade stairs.
- Wash toys regularly and/or keep a special box of toys for when children visit.
- Only expose young children to a domestic pet when you are in a position to supervise.
- Relocate breakables: attractive ornaments or glassware can be a magnet for a small child, so ensure that these are kept out of reach.
- Practise safety in the car and the playground, and help to teach your grandchildren about pedestrian road safety.
- Depending on the age of the grandchild, establish contact with a local maternal and child health nurse, preschool director or primary school.
- Ensure you have a plan in place for any emergency, accident or illness that may stop you from temporarily caring for your grandchild. Be aware of immunisation status. Discuss your emergency plan with family and/or friends so that all those involved know what has to happen.
- Keep in touch with extended family. Help children to email, make phone calls or send cards. Make up photo albums together to help children understand 'the bigger picture' of family life.
- Always confer with parents before offering to buy items such as a computer or television for the child to use in your home. If your grandchild has asked for something that is beyond your budget, speak to the parents regarding the appropriateness of making a contribution towards the purchase.
- Respect your children's parenting views in regard to the grandchildren, as well as sharing yours. Be open to advice and provide as much support as you can manage.
- Encourage grandchildren to be independent and help them to make their own decisions and take every opportunity to boost their self-esteem and confidence.
- Always confer with parents if children are sick or need medical attention.
- Be a good listener for your grandchildren. Be sensitive to discussing issues of separation or divorce and try not to take sides or cast a particular family member in a negative role.
- All children need clear boundaries to feel safe and secure and for you to keep your sense of perspective and routine. Regular eating times, bed times, how much TV or computer access is permitted may be some issues that need to be discussed and adhered to.
- Most children respond readily to the fact that as a grandparent, you may do things differently or that you may need some quiet time.
- Talking to children about being sensitive to your needs (as well as theirs) can help to give children an insight into your world.
- Occasionally indulging a child can be a positive and enjoyable time, but over-indulgence, spoiling and pampering may serve to create problems for them, yourself and the parents.
- Some grandchildren may come into your care having experienced a background of separation, divorce or domestic violence and at times, their behaviour may reflect the trauma they have suffered. Sensitivity, love and support are needed, but if behavioural problems persist, discuss this with their parents (where possible) to seek professional assistance.
- Children from a troubled background (especially those who may not be able to live with their parents for any reason) may grieve for what they perceive is the ideal family. In these instances, your support, patience and understanding can be a crucial factor in terms of security and self-esteem.
- Be clear about how much time you can realistically spend on occasional babysitting or minding grandchildren on a regular basis.
- Young children are a lot of work—physically, mentally and emotionally—and unrealistic expectations can leave everyone stressed and tired.
Caring for yourself and/or partner
- Financially, it can be a burden to raise grandchildren. Centrelink has brochures and information to help you negotiate their services and a special section on raising grandchildren.
- Legal issues surrounding the care of grandchildren can be complex. There are many helpful websites on the Internet, which can be of help.
- Most importantly, take time out to look after yourself and your partner. It can be stressful for a child to think that something bad might happen to grandma or grandpa, especially if you have full time care of the child. Let them see you spending time relaxing, reading or having a cup of tea with the neighbour. Keep up with any exercise plans, eat nutritious meals and share the minding with a partner if you need a catnap.
- As a grandparent, you are in the best position to give your grandchildren unconditional love, support and nurture. Grandparents can provide security, safety and be a positive influence in a child's learning and life experience.
- Enjoy your role and time as a grandparent. Enjoy the happiness, exuberance and energy that a young child generates, and have fun together building cubby houses under card tables or cooking up some play dough!