Making memories

Summer allows grandparents and kids to build close relationships that will last forever

making memories

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, July / August 2016

The role of a grandparent differs in as many ways as there are grandparents in the world.

But whether a grandparent provides full-time care, step-grandparenting, or long- distance grandparenting, they all have one thing in common: a desire to make the most of the precious time they have with their grandchildren.

And summer, as it turns out, is a great time of year to do just that. With the kids out of school, there is much more opportunity for them to spend quality time with their grandparents.

The social, physical and mental health benefits to grandparents of this shared time are clear. They get a chance to experience the magic of watching a child grow and develop, an opportunity to play and explore the world from a child’s perspective again, and the sense of purpose that comes with being needed and loved. There is also an opportunity to pass along family traditions, cultural heritage, stories and songs, games or hobbies.

Because grandparenting is a step back from day-to-day parenting responsibilities, developing a close bond with a grandchild can sometimes be easier and more fun. Grandparents often have more time to linger and let children take their time doing whatever activity they are engaged in because they are not so caught up in the business of daily pressures and responsibilities of parenting, especially if they are retired. Past experience as parents can also help them avoid the pitfalls that they encountered the first time around.

Kids also benefit. When grandparents spend quality time reading, playing or learning a new skill with their grandchild, it can enhance the child’s development. Neuroscience has given us insight into how our brains are wired for connection to others. Feeling love from another person who makes us feel safe and secure is good for a child’s sense of belonging, self-esteem and self-confidence. Even when grandparenting from afar, grandparents can still be a positive influence and build deep emotional connections with their grandchildren. 

As with any family relationships, grandparenting may also come with some frustration.

Sometimes it can be stressful dealing with crying babies, energetic school-agers or moody teenagers. There may be challenges with trying to maintain a balance between healthy boundaries and indulging in their every whim.

As much as we want to allow grandkids to stay up past bedtime, eat as much ice cream as they want, or buy more toys, ignoring boundaries, trying to be the parent or buying the grandkids’ affection may cause conflict between you and your son or daughter, or even undermine the relationship with your grandchild.

As a result, it is important to get to know your grandchild’s norms and family rules, and try to respect them as much as possible. Consistency and routines are good for children’s and teenagers’ social and emotional development, and they also play an important role in establishing healthy relationships. It is wise to set limits, be consistent and offer reasonable choices most of the time; however, it is okay to indulge once in a while, but check it out with the child’s parents first.

Remember that the rules around child safety have changed over the years. For example, be sure to follow children’s car seat safety guidelines. Check with your grandchild’s parents about ways to child-proof your home and find out about any allergies or sensitivities you may need to be aware of so that there are no unexpected trips to the emergency room.

Your relationship may change over time with the age of the child. Younger children may be more excited to spend time with their grandparents than teenage grandchildren. Try not to take it personally, be flexible and know that you are still a vital part of their lives. 
Being a grandparent is a very important role, and whether you are near or far away, the moments that you share together can become memories that will last a lifetime.

Nicole Neault is a mental health promotion facilitator for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Things to do with the grandkids

Set aside some one-on-one time.

Play a board game or card game. Share a family recipe. Work on a puzzle or plan a simple craft with stickers or markers. Have fun making bubbles outdoors. For grandparents far away, use technology to set up some time to connect.  

Share a hobby or activity that you or your grandchild enjoys.

You might be pleasantly surprised that they are interested in woodworking, fishing, baking, or gardening. Similarly, taking an interest in what they are passionate about – like trading cards, making jewelry or record collecting – can build a special connection and contribute to more meaningful conversations. For those farther away, the Internet and Facetime can bridge the kilometres and allow you to share the things you love. 

Spend time outdoors together as much as possible.

Nature is very good for the well-being of children, teens and adults. A trip to the beach, zoo or park, day hikes, or playing a game of mini-golf are all great ways to build memories and spend quality outdoor time together. 

Create new memories.

Visit a museum, library or local festival. Take a day trip to an unfamiliar destination. Volunteer together. Look at old family photo albums. Make a family scrapbook or explore your family history together. Make a time capsule. Take turns listening to each other’s favourite music and talk about why you like it.

Be present, even if you can’t be present. Stay updated in your grandchild’s life.

Embrace technology, send emails, Google talk and Skype, share videos and pictures, or just pick up the phone. Read a favourite bedtime story over the phone or record yourself reading the story. If the Internet is not available, send your grandchild a card or letter in the mail; they will feel special and loved upon its arrival. 

Wave: November / December 2015

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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