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Magic Happens When Grandparents Care for Grandchildren

on Mon, 09/07/2015 - 13:54

By: Karen Nemeth

For me, being a grandparent is not the same as being a parent.  I am not the primary caregiver, but I do spend time with my grandchildren every week. Caring for them is not a question of just repeating what I did when I raised my own kids. I’ve come to think of being a grandmother as a new experience that offers great opportunities along with a bit of uncertainty. Here are some ways I believe grandparents can have unique connections with young grandchildren that foster them to learn and grow:  

1.  Give your time - it's the greatest gift.  A grandparent who stops everything and focuses on playing and chatting with a young child builds a lifetime of memories and helps your  grandchild learn and grow.

2.  Play WITH your grandchild.  Paint together, play board games together, play catch, play pretend. When you interact, you model good sportsmanship, good manners, good vocabulary and so much more. 

3.  Tell your stories.  Just because you told them to your own children doesn't mean they'll get passed down.  Stories about our experiences are the vehicle we use to pass down our family and cultural traditions. 

4.  Read the old, classic children's books you enjoyed.  They are new to your grandchildren and you make them special because you have practiced those funny voices and dramatic flourishes that bring them to life.

5.  Share your passions. My dad taught my daughters how to fish and my mom brought them to art museums when I never had the interest. One became the nature counselor at summer camp and one minored in art history.

6. Teach them your skills. Don't hurry them away when you are making or fixing something.  They will love to be by your side handing you the screwdriver, helping you plant seeds, or stirring the batter - and they will learn important life lessons their parents may not have time to teach.

7. Include them in conversations. Don't talk over their heads. Ask them questions and show them how to make good conversation by expressing an interest in other people.  I love when my toddler grandson always turns to me in a restaurant and asks, "What you having for your dinner, Nannie?"

8. Talk about your things.  Do you have special collections, antiques, photo albums, old home movies or family heirlooms? Knowing about them, the stories behind them and why they are important to you will be fascinating and enriching for young children.

9. Keep things the same.  It means so much to young children when they know there will always be certain toys or other items at the grandparents' house.  I looked forward to Grandma's house because I could count on the old wooden child-sized table and the checkers games we'd play, along with pretzel sticks and homemade coffee cake I didn't get at home.  My children still talk about playing with the Russian nesting dolls at my mom's house year after year.  Now my grandchildren go straight for the box of play cooking utensils at my house because it is something predictable that eases their transition from their house to mine.  

10. Be the cozy lap, the warm embrace, the listening ear and the relentless cheerleader that every child needs to grow up strong, caring and confident.  Even if you can't always be close enough to touch, you can offer the same feeling by phone or computer video chat. What you do with your young grandchildren really does matter!

About the Author: Karen Nemeth is an early childhood author, speaker and consultant, but her most rewarding role is being a mom and grandma.

What role do grandparents play in your children's lives? If you're a grandparent - what are some ways you foster relationships and interact with your grandchildren?


Thanks Karen, as one grandma to another this encapsulates it all. I think I will have to go visit my grandchildren today as your article has made me want to share and feel that special love.

I had the luxury of choosing to live just blocks from my two wonderful grandchildren, and therefore close to their school as well. The only thing I would add to your beautiful article, Karen , is to be involved in your grandkids school if at all possible. I am a guest reader, donate books, and support school events as often as I can. This not only helps the school ( and goodness knows, schools can always use volunteers!), but I believe it also shows my grandchildren how much I value literacy and education. I LOVE walking into their school and having dozens of kids squeal "Nana's here!"

We do Grandparents' Camp every summer for 3-4 weeks. The cousins live in different states and so cherish their time together. They used to take turns selecting what we ate as well as planning the daily activities. Now at 10, 12, 14 & 16, they have mastered planning together, often doing so before they arrive. We started out sending them home with a scrapbook of pictures and quotes from each child as both a remembrance and as a way of keeping their parents in the loop. As you might imagine, they began over time to take their own pictures and catalogue their qwn memories. What I cherish most is that they so thoroughly love hanging out together. They may live at a distance from each other, but they know each other well. They are family.    

My grandchildren's parents are currently going through a divorce, and because they live only 25 minutes away from us, our home is their second home. My husband and I provide the security, love and consistency they need as they transition into the next chapter of  their childhood.

If only all children could have a Karen Nemeth for their Nannie!!  I hope to join the Grandma club in the next year or so and will certainly follow your lead! Thanks!

My husband and I just brought our 12 year old grandson from Western Canada to Rhode Island to meet his his American relatives for the first time.  He met his 96 year old great grandmother for the first time as well as aunts, uncles and cousins.  I wasn't sure if this was the right thing to do but your article confirms for me that we did the right thing.  Thank you.

Even though we reside on the east coast, we bought a 2nd home in Michigan halfway between our two daughers and their families. My husband and I agree that grandparenting, at this point in my life, is my calling, even though that means that we no longer will live in the same state. I drive almost 3 hours each Sunday to care for 3 of our grands while our daughter finishes nursing school.  I stay until Thursday. I sleep in the basement, get kids on the school bus each AM, drive one to & from preschool, and crawl back home after each stint.  I am exhausted, spent, and lay on the couch for 3 days before I get up & do it all over again. This blog explains better than I could why I do it.  Plus I hope to share my Christian vaues & faith with these little ones.  Grandparenting isn't for sissies.  Its active, messy, tiring, rewarding and more fun than I've ever had.  We are making memories that will far outlive me!

---is the reason I moved from the City 15 years ago to livenin the Country.  She lives 5-10 minutes from my place!  I have watched her grow from a precious baby to a gorgeous, smart teenager!   SHE IS THe ONLY GRANDKID, and I adore her!