How to nurture the bond between kids and grandparents

Grandparents are helping out more than ever before. Here is how to navigate grandparenting and nurture this special intergenerational bond, according to the experts.

Whether it’s helping with school pick-ups, babysitting, or baking cookies together, the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren is one to be treasured.

The stereotype of an elderly grandparent with silver hair, sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair, is long gone.

Today, grandparents are often active contributors in their grandchildren’s lives, from attending school events and concerts to doing school drop-offs.

While times may have changed, and the role of grandparenting has evolved, the intergenerational relationship is as important as ever.

Why grandparents matter

Research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies shows two in five grandparents with a grandchild aged under 13 are providing some level of child care; and more than 60 per cent of grandparents provide child care to support the parents’ work or study.

While almost half the grandparents surveyed reported that looking after their grandchildren was tiring, the majority also said they enjoyed providing care because it increased family connections.

Child and adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says grandparents are more active, more educated and more involved in their grandchildren’s lives than ever before.

Dr Carr-Gregg, author of the book Grandparents: A Practical Guide to Navigating Grandparenting Today, says grandparents have a powerful influence in the lives of grandchildren.

“Grandparents are the unsung heroes in helping mums and dads,” Dr Carr-Gregg notes.

Raising Children Network director Derek McCormack says today’s grandparents are more hands-on compared to days gone by.

“A lot of grandparents are stepping up to help with child care and child rearing, especially when both parents are working,” Derek says.

Positive benefits of grandparenting

Everybody benefits when grandparents are involved in their grandchildren’s lives, Dr Carr-Gregg says.

According to results from a Berlin Aging study, grandparents who babysit their grandchildren live longer on average than grandparents who don’t.

Children also enjoy positives from having grandparents in their lives.

“If their grandparents are involved, children are more likely to have better behavioural and emotional wellbeing, and to achieve better academic results,” Dr Carr-Gregg says.

Derek agrees, explaining that a good support network of adults can help children build resilience.

“The more helpful and supportive adults there are in a child’s life, the more it helps the child with their development and positive psychology,” Derek says, adding that grandparents can also offer unique perspectives on social hurdles, such as friendships, moral decisions and tricky dilemmas.

How to build strong grandparent-grandchild bonds

Play is the secret to building a strong relationship, Dr Carr‑Gregg says.

“While some grandparents may view play as silly or pointless, it’s actually very important,” he says.

Play with a baby can include anything from tummy time to singing and sensory toys.

As children grow older, their interests develop, and Dr Carr‑Gregg recommends being guided by those interests – whether they be board games, arts and crafts, or reading books.

He says it’s important to remember that grandparents are the custodians of family history.

“Try to get kids involved (in family history) while they are still young and curious,” Dr Carr-Gregg says.

This could include writing a history of the family, visiting meaningful places, creating a family cookbook, or sharing photos.

How to manage adult expectations

Communication between parents and grandparents is key.

Parents should have conversations about boundaries with grandparents early so everyone can be on the same page about rules and routines, Derek says, adding that different opinions are to be expected.

“A grandparent might believe in one approach while a parent believes in another,” Derek says.

“That’s natural; it’s part of different generations having different (parenting) styles.”

Derek says it’s also vital to talk about how much help grandparents are able to offer, considering their individual circumstances such as location, finances, time and health.

Whether it’s dietary sugar or screen time, Dr Carr‑Gregg says it’s important to stay calm if someone has overstepped the boundaries.

“Take the grandparent out for a cup of coffee and talk about all the wonderful things they do and how grateful you are,” Dr Carr‑Gregg says.

“And then just explain your rules, your expectations and your boundaries.”

A new age of grandparenting

Dr Carr‑Gregg says grandparenting today is more complex because of changes in technology, and different attitudes towards sexuality and neurodiversity.

He says things have changed for grandparents who grew up in an era when parenting was not so complicated.

“We’ve dispensed with the shaming and the shouting; we’re now really talking about a much more nuanced form of parenting and, by default, grandparenting,” Dr Carr-Gregg says.

“So the role of grandparenting has become more important.”

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Written by Bianca Carmona.