Grandparents’ Guide For Family Nurturing and Safety

Making It Work

Even with all the advantages of an extended family, the course of those relationships doesn't always run smooth. Parents and grandparents are bound to disagree over child-rearing choices. The trick is in knowing how to cool the friction before the fire gets out of hand.

  • What most young parents need from their own parents is sympathetic support, not advice and criticism. While it's sometimes painful to watch your children go through the trial-and-error of parenthood, it's part of their learning curve. It's best to let them know you're there for them, that you're willing and eager to listen and that you'd be glad to offer the wisdom of your own experience if and when they want it. A regular "date" with them to let your child unload is a sure way of keeping in touch.
  • Occasionally, our children or grandchildren will do something we feel so strongly about, we'll want to intervene right then and there. Resist temptation. It only undermines the parents in front of the children and sets up tensions. The time to talk about the problem is calmly and reasonably and privately. Even if you ultimately disagree, it inspires trust when you accept their parenting decisions. Remind your children of their own childhood crises and how they handled them.
  • Grandparents must respect their children as the parents. Grandparents are notorious for overindulging their young charges, and parents often worry that this will undercut their own child-rearing efforts. However, Grandma and Grandpa's treats, no matter how frequent, are just one more sign to children that they are cherished. Grandparents can be tolerant, loving and supportive, without having to discipline and instruct the way parents must. They can afford to see all the good things in a child and ignore the bad. That's a wonderful mirror into which a child can look.
  • Children always know that their parents' insistence on proper nutrition and a sensible bedtime is good and loving in the most profound sense. So when it comes to major issues, grandparents should always abide by the limits set by the parents to avoid confusion and bad feeling on all sides.
  • One of the great gifts we have is our ability to influence young children. Removed from the power struggles of the immediate family a grandparent isn't likely to meet with as much resistance as a parent would in suggesting a child do some homework or set the table. It is one way grandparents help parents by reinforcing the values that parents want to instill.

T. Berry Brazelton, MD

Let your children know that you made more than your share of mistakes when they were little, and that, just as they do now, you had to learn how to take good care of them. I will never forget the time when my baby daughter Laura was about to swallow something that looked to her like a piece of cherry candy. It wasn't candy. It was a bright-red glue pellet from a craft set. That is how I learned the importance of baby-proofing our home.

  • Then my grown-up daughter had the fun of reminding me of those lessons when my own grandchildren were little and she brought them to visit me. She went around my house to be sure I had put all the peanuts and candies up high-and locked away the pills-and put safety plugs on the electrical outlets.
  • Where babies are concerned, we can all use good advice. But as a grandparent, I try hard not to give it unless I'm asked. It's much better if I wait until I hear, "Mom, I need advice."
  • It may be our privilege as grandparents to indulge and maybe even spoil our grandchildren a bit. For example, I may buy more toys or treats for my grandchildren than I did for my daughters. But you need to be careful, too. A friend of mine, a new grandmother, proudly showed me the toy she bought for her two-year-old grandson. The age label on the toy was for an older child. Like me, she thought she had the smartest grandchild imaginable, and the toy would challenge him. But those age labels on toys are often safety recommendations, not measures of skill or ability. By providing appropriate playthings, you can spoil your grandchildren and keep them safe at the same time.
  • We're there with the power of example. Try not to force your beliefs. Rather, in a loving and con-versational way, set a good example. For instance, my grandchildren see me in my job giving back to society. They've got the idea that's a good thing from watching what I do and how much I care about child safety. They've become safety ambassadors, very interested in safety for themselves and for their friends. It's your very presence that affects them. You're a grandparent figure. If you're informal, loving, friendly and casual, and you set a good example, it's the best way to encourage learning, values and connection that go beyond your family to the community and society at large.

Ann Brown

Adapted from: A Grandparents' Guide for Family Nurturing & Safety
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Authors: T. Berry Brazelton and Ann Brown

Reviewed by athealth on February 5, 2014.