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Ten Ways to Be a Better Grandparent





Grandparents’ Day, celebrated on September 12, is a good time to consider these tips for developing a more loving relationship with your grandchildren.

By Patricia L. Fry

 1. Be in the Know

 2. Heal Relationships

 3. Communicate Effectively

 4. Be a Support System

 5. Visit the Grandchildren

 6. Invite the Grandchildren to Visit

 7. Travel With Your Grandchildren

 8. Become a Teacher

 9. Foster Family Traditions

 10. Be a Spiritual Leader

Share Your Grandparenting Tips

Loving our grandchildren comes naturally. But sometimes we need guidance in our role. How do you bond with a grandchild who lives halfway across the country? How do you function as a grandparent to children of divorce when your child does not have custody? And then there’s the issue of life-style: Few folks today are the rocking chair, cookie-baking, whittling kind of grandparents who enhanced our own childhood.

Many grandparents today are younger, healthier and more vital than in the past. Instead of thinking about retiring, they’re starting businesses, going back to college or entering new professions.

How does this affect family unity? According to Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, founder of Foundation for Grandparenting in New Mexico, “A substantial number of families are not getting the stabilizing benefits of having the elder generation on the scene.” He urges grandparents who want to retire to a warmer climate or launch an all-consuming business, “Don’t relinquish your place as head and heart of the family.”

Whether you live near your grandchildren or far away, here are some ways you can become involved in their lives.

1. Be in the Know

Robert and Shirley Strom, authors of Becoming a Better Grandparent: Viewpoints on Strengthening the Family, suggest that grandparents never stop learning. In order to relate to children today, you need some knowledge of technology. You need to understand current social trends and how they affect your grandchildren. As the world changes, our grandchildren’s needs, concerns and fears change. Thus grandparents must shift a little in their approach to this younger generation.

Keep up with the news, but also read books and articles about how to grandparent. Join a grandparent support group or start one in your church.

Additionally, try mimicking positive qualities of your own grandparents. What made them special? Maybe your grandfather always had time for you no matter what. Perhaps your grandmother taught you something valuable which you’ve carried with you throughout your life. Were your grandparents playful? Patient? Tolerant? Fun? Forgiving?

2. Heal Relationships

Sunie Levin is editor of Your Grandchild: News for Today’s Active Grandparents. She says, “The divorce rate is climbing to over 60 percent. Our families are fragmented, and the security of our children is being upset because of this. Having a grandparent figure can add to a child’s overall security and feeling of comfort, which helps with self-esteem.”

If you have a good relationship with your grandchildren’s parents, cherish it. If you don’t, do whatever you can to heal it. Ask God to help dissolve any residue of anger or blame, and to give you some tools to heal the relationship: forgiveness, love and prayer. Remember that accusation, blame and resentment are not healing tools.

If your adult child is divorcing, don’t get involved and don’t take sides. Simply be there and be supportive. Your grandchildren need a sense of stability in their young lives more than ever before. If, by some cruel hand of fate, you’re denied access to your grandchildren, you can petition for visitation rights. If you are still blocked from seeing your grandchildren after trying every healing and legal tool, continue sending them letters and gifts to let them know that you care.

One grandmother sent gifts and cards to her beloved granddaughter, but the items were returned unopened. The grandmother saved the gifts. For every special occasion, she would buy her granddaughter an age-appropriate gift, wrap it, write a message of love on a beautiful card and then store it away with hope in her heart. When the child grew up, the two reunited and had a party to end all parties.

3. Communicate Effectively

For many grandparents today, grandparenting is performed at a distance. In fact, two thirds of the 60 million grandparents in America have at least one grandchild living in another state.

If you live miles away from your grandchildren, don’t write the family off and spend your life in sorrow. You need to find ways to stay in touch despite the distance.

Call regularly and make those calls interesting and exciting. I take notes when I talk to my long-distance granddaughter, Staci. Then the next time we talk I’ll remember to ask her how she did with her pony in the 4-H horse show, what she liked best about her school trip and how the dog training with her Welsh corgi is going.

Getting the kids to talk on the phone is sometimes a challenge. Irene Endicott is the grandmother of 15 and the author of Grandparenting by Grace: A Guide Through the Joys and Struggles. She suggests that silent periods are O.K. because you need to give the children a minute to think. “They’re formulating what they want to say,” she explains. “If we come right in with our words, they don’t have a chance to think and some real gems can go by the wayside.”

Some grandparents I know leave their grandchildren with quizzes, riddles and other challenges to think about until the next time they talk by phone. Another option is leaving the kids with a cliff-hanger: Create Perils of Pauline stories and save the ending for the next call. The kids will surely rush to the phone the next time you call, eager to hear the rest of the story.

Write them age-appropriate letters often. Use lots of color, pictures and fun stickers for the younger kids. Print letters for those who don’t read cursive yet. Tuck in little gifts (stickers, bookmarks, postcards, pressed flowers, photographs, feathers). Have older children send you their spelling words and include them in subsequent letters.

Use letters to keep memories of past visits alive. Mention that you had ice cream at the child’s favorite sweet shop, or write about the cat you found in what they designated the “secret garden” at your house.

Get involved in their interests, whether it’s collecting (rocks, bottle caps, stamps, Bible verses), watching or playing a sport, fishing or being fascinated by cats. This gives you more to write about in letters and to talk about by phone.

E-mail gives you a new opportunity for easy and quick communication once you get into it. Use technology to your advantage. For younger children, tape-record yourself reading or telling stories and send them the tapes. Videotape the family Easter egg hunt and send it to the children who couldn’t be there. Have someone film you baking cookies you subsequently sent them, or shopping for and wrapping their birthday gifts.

4. Be a Support System

Children need to feel as though they belong, and the involvement of extended family gives kids a greater sense of roots. You can augment this by sharing the family history with the grandkids. Another thing you can do is to provide a safe haven for your grandchildren and welcome them into a stress-free environment whenever they visit or you talk on the phone. Daily disciplinary issues are the parents’ job—not yours. Your job is to have fun and to be a role model of the values with which you want these precious children to grow up.

Help them succeed. When they falter or fail, encourage them. When they succeed, praise them. They can’t get enough positive feedback, especially from someone they love and respect.

5. Visit the Grandchildren

Whether you live across the state or across the street, avoid arriving at a grandchild’s home with expectations. You don’t always know what to expect from a child and sometimes they need time to warm up. Irene Endicott suggests, “Just present yourself lovingly and wait.”

Avoid bringing a gift every time you visit because the child will start looking for the gift instead of being happy to see you.

When you do bring a gift, make it a gift of education: Learn something to teach the children. This might be a craft, a new paper airplane design or a drawing technique. During one visit, I taught my granddaughters, who were then eight, how to make yarn pompoms.

While visiting the grandkids, involve yourself in their daily life. For example, you could visit their school, watch Little League practice or accompany them to story time at their library.

This is the time to notice what they are wearing, what they collect and what they enjoy doing. Not only will this information be useful during subsequent phone visits, it will give you good ideas for birthday and Christmas gifts.

While visiting, be sure to snap lots of pictures of the children and have someone take pictures of you enjoying special moments with your grandkids. Send duplicate photos to the kids when you return home to remind them of the wonderful time you had together or save the pictures to use as gifts.

I save many of the photos I take of my grandkids throughout the year. At Christmas, I fill a small album for each grandchild and wrap them up. These gifts are always showstoppers. Nothing else gets opened until they’ve looked at every photo in their albums.


6. Invite the Grandchildren to Visit

Discuss with your grandchildren ahead of time what they’d like to do while visiting. You might send them a list of ideas and brochures of local activities. Keep it simple and make it fun: A casual walk around the lake would probably be more enjoyable for kids than going to a theater production. Take those who like planes to visit the airport, those who like trains to the train station, those who like dolls to the factory where they’re made.

When you’re entertaining out-of-town grandchildren, don’t forget to involve the local grandchildren in the activities as well. Time spent with cousins makes unforgettable childhood memories.

Create a place they can call their own while visiting—a room, nook or corner where they can put their belongings. Devise a children’s corner complete with table, chairs, colored paper, pencils, blunt scissors, stickers, coloring books and crayons, puzzles, games and so forth. Children can play dress-up using interesting clothing you’ve gathered from thrift stores and garage sales.

Kids aren’t likely to care about elaborate meals and fancy place settings. Ask them what their favorite meals are and plan to fix these. Grilled cheese sandwiches or pizza will delight most children. And when it comes to salads, they’ll probably prefer something simple—skip the “foreign objects.”

7. Travel With Your Grandchildren

Traveling is a wonderful way to bond. Ask your grandchildren what they want to do and take their suggestions seriously. Plan trips that excite, interest and educate them. Lean toward amusement parks, beaches and zoos. Stick to museums with hands-on exhibits. Depending on your finances and interests, camping or a cruise on a family-oriented line could be fun.

Nip disputes in the bud. Arguments about who will sit in the front seat can be avoided by making a hard and fast rule that gives everyone a turn. In fact, you might rule that a complaint eliminates that child’s turn.

When driving with children, stop frequently to allow them the opportunity to dispense energy. Pack each child a “busy box,” which includes snacks that aren’t messy along with activities and toys that don’t have small parts (they’re likely to get lost between the seats).

Let your grandkids plan the itinerary. When there’s more than one child, let each child choose one activity each day, or plan the activities and choose the eating places for an entire day. This way, everyone will get to do something they really want to do.

Tic-tac-toe is a tried-and-true travel game. Others include:

I’m going on a trip: The first player says, “I’m going on a trip and I’m going to take....” Begin with an item that starts with the letter A. The next player repeats what the first player said and adds an item that starts with the letter B and so forth. Go as far as you can through the alphabet.

The alphabet game: Everyone tries to find all the letters of the alphabet in order on car license plates, freeway signs, billboards and other items you wish to include.

States: Challenge the children to spot license plates from all of the states.

Terse verse: Use two words as a clue to help someone guess two rhyming words that describe something. For example, “obese feline” defines “fat cat.” “Unruly tot” describes “wild child.” “Chatty parakeet” explains “wordy birdie.”

8. Become a Teacher

There are many age-appropriate things you can teach your grandchildren. You could teach them something you know well such as gardening, building model cars, sewing, baking or the ethics of running a business. When they see something on television or on the street that shows poor human judgment, use this as an opportunity to teach them a life lesson. If they live out of town, watch for books and articles to send them about things they told you they are studying in school.

Teach them how to wait graciously. Life has many periods of waiting—in traffic, in the airport, at the grocery store or in line for an activity. While waiting in line you can challenge them to use their imagination and observational skills. Ask them how many people in line are wearing cowboy boots. Humor a young child by saying, “I wonder if the woman in front of us has a little dog in her bag.” The child immediately switches from being bored, tired and hungry to wondering what’s in that bag. Tell them, “I’ve counted five red purses,” and see how they respond. Or ask, “Where do you think those people are going?”

Praise is another good teaching tool. Praise your grandchildren when they write a letter to you; don’t berate them when they don’t write.

9. Foster Family Traditions

Traditions are family activities that have become customs. Traditions bind families together. Sunie Levin notes, “Shared memories and traditions bring family [members] closer together and remind them of their common roots and shared love. As a grandparent, you are the caretaker of those memories and traditions, and it’s up to you to share them.”

Traditions give children a stronger sense of identity, which is particularly important for those who do not have access to their grandparents on a daily basis. Long-distance families may have to put some effort into creating meaningful traditions. But don’t despair because many of your current traditions, with modification, could be carried on even at a distance. For example, if good grades are rewarded in your family by an ice-cream cone, you could send a gift certificate to the A student for a favorite local ice-cream store.

Maybe you usually fill the pockets of an Advent calendar for your grandkids at Christmas. This year you could send the gifts or biblical messages and ask their parents to fill the pockets.

10. Be a Spiritual Leader

One of the most important jobs you can do as a grandparent is to share your spiritual values with your grandchildren. You can do this by having Bible study at your home for your grandchildren once a week. For those grandkids across the miles, create prayer or Scripture night by phone. Buy two age-appropriate Bible story books—one for yourself and one for them. Every week, assign a story to read and then discuss it with them on the phone.

Help the children apply biblical principles to everyday situations so they will learn to make the right decisions. Discuss good and poor decisions in a nonjudgmental way.

Pray often with them and for them. You will make them feel special by telling them, “Every morning before I take my walk, I say a prayer for you children. I pray that God will watch over you all day while you are at school and at play, that God will keep you safe and help you to make the right decisions.”

Grandparenting may be our last assignments on earth from God. Let’s be the best that we can be.


Patricia L. Fry is the author of Creative Grandparenting Across the Miles: Ideas for Sharing Love, Faith and Family Traditions (Liguori Publications).

Do you have a grandparenting tip that you would like to share? Let us know about it. Send us your tip, and then make sure to check back. We will post a listing of selected ideas and tips.

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