In your 50s
Your grandchildren may still be babies or toddlers and likely to need lots of practical, hands-on help. Here’s how to make the best of their early years…
- Don’t criticise Offer advice to new mums sparingly and with extreme tact, as suggestions (however helpful) could be seen as criticism. If she continues to do things her way, bite your tongue and remember childcare advice has changed a lot since your children were small.
- Too much, too soon Try not to be overbearing. New parents need to figure things out on their own. The best thing you can do is to make yourself available for advice or practical help; you’re a valuable source of knowledge after-all!
- Encouragement Celebrate toddlers’ milestones and applaud their efforts however small. Read to them regularly an ask questions that don’t have yes/no answers to encourage a conversation.
- ‘The terrible twos’ Your grandchildren's independence is growing and they’re likely to begin to defy authority. Tantrums may erupt and ‘no’ becomes a favorite word. The trick is to not over-react or compare them unfavorably to better-behaved children or siblings.
- Don’t take it personally Toddlers can cling to certain family members and shy away from others. Remind yourself that this is a passing phase. Try not to overcrowd them or push too hard for affection, by holding back a little your grandchildren will come to you in time.
In your 60s
Your grandkids are school age and starting to develop their own opinions and be strongly influenced by friends. Here’s how to make sure you’re still an important part of their lives…
- Feed their bodies Growing children get through a lot of food and eating together is a great bonding experience. If you can share the cooking with them too then they’ll learn a new skill at the same time.
- Setting the rules Discipline and consistency are important but, by this age, children are capable of understanding that different rules can apply in different places. If you want them to sit at the table until everyone finishes dinner just firmly tell them that’s what happens at Gran’s house.
- School is cool Try and support your grandchildren’s academic life as much as you can. If you live close, help with homework and projects or play fun, educational games when you visit.
- Have a laugh Research has found that learning humour through jokes shows cognitive maturity so don’t be afraid to make them giggle!
- All the world's a stage Support extra-curricular activities. If you live too far away to attend every play, dance or music recital, remembering to wish them luck and making time to ask how it went after the event will be much appreciated.
In your 70’s
Your grandkids may be teens now and even though you might not be called upon for practical help any more – but emotionally they’ll need you more than ever…
- A little help Teenagers like to feel useful so ask them to lend a hand – especially if they can give you the benefit of their wisdom for a change. Why not ask them to teach you how to download music off the internet, or what Twitter is all about?
- Become street-wise You don’t have to enjoy the same TV shows, movies, books and music but asking them questions about the things they’re interested in will help keep you up-to-date.
- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder Don’t criticize your grandkids appearance. You may not approve of their hairstyles or piercings or choice of clothes but it’s a form of self-expression. Didn’t we rebel in our day too?
- Have a debate Teenagers often have strongly held (and newly-formed) views on current events, religion and politics. Starting a debate with your grandkids could be very enlightening. They’ll appreciate having the chance to air their opinion, but remember, if you have contrasting views, try not to let it turn into an argument.
- Lend an ear Often, teenagers just need a sounding-board, not solutions. Talking things through can help them sort out problems on their own terms. If you offer specific advice, try not to lecture or be judgmental.
How to deal with step-grandchildren at any age
- Don't expect to build a relationship or bond immediately.
- Extravagant gifts can be interpreted as buying love – try not to make it a habit.
- Stay out of family conflicts and avoid taking sides.
- Treat biological and step-grandchildren fairly and equally. If possible see them individually so they’re not competing for attention.
- Don’t force traditional ‘granny’ names on them. Let them choose what they’d like to call you.