“Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation,” wrote Lois Wyse, the author of “Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Grandmother.”
Keeping communication lines open and strong can be challenging for grandparents as both they and their grandchildren age and change.
Here are some ideas for navigating grandparenthood to maximize the pleasures and avoid the pitfalls.
Baby and Toddler Grandkids
Having a grandbaby is fun, but it can also be tricky. Take these baby steps to make your new relationship safe and exciting for both of you.
- Be cautious. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) outlines three particularly dangerous areas for babies and toddlers. If it’s been awhile since you’ve had small children around, make sure you brush up on modern safety concerns.
Every 30 minutes, a child is sent to the emergency room as a result of top-heavy furniture falling over. Unstable TVs are a major culprit. Hang your flat screen TV, or if that isn’t possible, securely anchor it to the stand.
Pool and spa incidents cause an annual average of 5,600 visits to the emergency room by children. And drownings cause more than one death per day. Babies who are too small to stand up in a spa shouldn’t be in them. If your grandkids are going to be near the pool, lake, or any body of water, designate a “water watcher” — someone whose primary responsibility is to pay close attention to children who are anywhere near water.
Swallowing a high-powered magnet set can be fatal to anyone, but they are particularly hazardous for small children. Although high-powered magnets have legitimate industrial and entertainment uses, they can be dangerous if swallowed and should be kept away from children younger than 14. Even building and play sets with small magnets that are suitable for older children should be off-limits to small children who are inclined to put things in their mouths.
- But also be fun. It may be difficult to recall what young children like, if it’s been years — maybe decades — since you’ve been called on to take charge of the diapered set. And it can be tough to remember the sheer amount of energy they need to expend.
- Take them to swim lessons. Taking a young child to swim lessons can be time-consuming, but it can also be priceless gift. Organizations like the YMCA offer adult-child swim classes for children as young as 6 months. Both of you hop in the water, blow bubbles and kick, kick, kick. You can bond while also acclimating the child to the water.
- Love the park. Regular trips to climbing structures and other play areas at the park strengthen muscles and make memories. The benefits of climbing, swinging and sliding are more than physical. These structures also are good for the brain, experts say, as children explore, follow their curiosity and socialize with peers.
Soon, children reach a stage where they are young enough to still worship their grandparents while being old enough to engage in a variety of activities. You two can relate to each other on a new level.
- Get the right car equipment. Take the kids on errands or plan a special day trip. Just make sure that if they’ll be in your car, you have the right equipment. The laws are different in every state, but in general, children should use a car or booster seat. Keep your grandchildren in a car seat up to age 4 and a booster seat at least through age 12, always in the backseat.
- Monitor your home. Make sure there are smoke and carbon dioxide monitors near spare bedrooms where grandchildren might stay. Some of these devices only last a half-dozen years, so ensure that yours aren’t expired and test them once a month to check that they’re working. It is also a good idea to have fire extinguishers, especially in the kitchen. They, too, need routine checks to ensure they’re still functioning.
- Supervise the home gym. You might want to keep the door to your home gym locked unless you are right there with the kids. Manufacturers of treadmills warn that these can be particularly dangerous for users who aren’t paying attention.
- Be the fun one. Do some of the things with your grandchildren that their parents don’t. Take time for a slow nature hike, or introduce them to your music and your style of dancing.Just make sure the parents are open to these new experiences. They’re the boss now.
- Be a fan. With their busy schedules, it can be hard for parents to be there for all of their kids’ events, but grandparents sometimes have more flexibility in how they use their time and may be available to cheer on soccer players, ballerinas and other budding stars.
This stage is a challenge for parents, but grandparents can have a special connection with this age group, because they know from experience that teens eventually grow up. Grandparents can offer love and understanding under trying circumstances.
- Set the rules. No smoking and no alcohol are big ones. The laws regarding these substances differ in every state, but for the most part, an adult who sanctions drinking or drug use can land in as much trouble as the kids.
- Will they drive your car? Check with your insurer before you hand over the keys—even for a quick trip to the grocery store. The rules vary by state. An occasional teen driver may be covered by your insurance, if you have given the teen permission to drive your car. But if your grandchild regularly drives your vehicle, they may not qualify under this occasional driver rule. If that is the case, you will have to add the teen to your policy.
- Teens love to eat. Cooking and eating together is a wonderful way to keep a teenager coming back for more. Supervising and teaching while the teen learns to make your family favorites is fun, and makes it likely that your family traditions will outlive you.
- Be tech-savvy. Go beyond Facebook and texting. For many teens, the social media tools of choice are Instagram and Snapchat. Although these are primarily used as mobile apps, you can use them on your desktop, too, to connect with the teens on their level. If you live far away from your grandchildren, master the art of Facetime and Skype so you can converse face-to-face for free wherever you are.
- Go on vacation. A trip with grandparents can make memories for both of you. Amusement parks, the beach and big cities are always fun, but you might also consider being more adventurous—whitewater rafting down the Grand Canyon with granddad can instill a love of nature that never fades. Since you aren’t a parent, there may be some legal restrictions relating to taking your grandchildren across state lines or out of the United States. If the child needs medical care, the doctor or hospital will likely require parental permission. Take time to understand the rules before you leave home.
It can require real commitment to extend your relationship with your grandchildren into their adult years as they fly far away from home both physically and emotionally. Here are some things to think about.
- Listen carefully. Everybody needs a friend — especially young adults who are making decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Giving your grandchildren a safe and nonjudgmental place to vent is a tremendous gift.
- Provide support. This doesn’t have to mean money. A good meal, a place to occasionally sleep and household goods you no longer need are all valuable to someone just starting out.
- Lend money cautiously. Don’t lend them any amount of money that must be paid back to ensure your own financial well-being. Compromising your own financial security is a bad idea.
- Remember important occasions. Call on their birthday. Send a Christmas gift. Congratulate them on their new jobs, big promotions, new apartments and new cars.
- Love the ones who love them. Get to know the new boyfriend or girlfriend and appreciate why your grandchild thinks this person is special.
The joy of being a grandparent is great. Enjoy it at every stage with these tips. Be a smart and loving grandparent.