Why Spending Time With Grandparents Is Good for Your Kids
In a study published last month by researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium, ageism can be seen in children as young as 3 years old. This is normal – young children naturally sort what they see into categories and often assign traits to those categories based on the message they receive (for example, older people scream a lot and want you to come down from their lawn). They tend to outgrow their ageist views between the ages of 10 and 12, but that helps them push. One way to break their stereotypes about older people can be very simple: Encourage children to “constructive contact” with their grandparents.
According to the research statement , this is the key. The researchers asked 1,151 children and adolescents between the ages of 7 and 16 what they thought about aging and older people. Those who described their contact with their grandparents as “good” or “very good” experienced more favorable feelings towards the elderly than those who described their contact with the Grammys and grandfathers less positively. Allison Flamion, who led the research team, explained in a statement that “the quality of the contact matters much more than the frequency.”
I didn’t need additional data to be convinced of the miracles of the grandparent-grandson bond — my relatives simply invited my five-year-old daughter to spend the night at their house tonight and offered to drive her to school tomorrow morning, so I know . Having two grandparents close by has improved our lives in many ways, and my husband and I are very fortunate. However, the relationship is not so organic for every family. Sometimes there is distance. There are differences between generations. Some grandparents have died or are absent for other reasons.
But if there is a grandparent or grandparent who wants to be in a child’s life, then it is definitely worth putting in the effort to develop the relationship. In addition to hopefully preventing ageism, intergenerational ties have many other benefits for children and adults . (My favorite study on this topic is that intergenerational programs have been shown to increase smiling rates among older adults.)
Here are a few things parents can do to help them spend time between their kids and their grandparents:
Make it part of your daily life.
Starting in the fifth grade, my father made me call my grandmother every Sunday night. Sometimes I fell and protested. “I have nothing to talk to her about,” I would say. But he insisted, and eventually the calls became part of the routine. I chuckled every time she yelled into the phone, saying, “Hello? Who is this? WHO? Oh, MICHEL! I THOUGHTED ABOUT YOU! “No one has ever experienced such constant enthusiasm for my voice.
If your kids’ grandparents live far away, it can be especially helpful to add FaceTime or Google Hangouts chat to your weekly calendar. Make the date a permanent one, as if you were practicing soccer or taekwondo.
Stay (mostly) away from relationships
I just found an old email that my husband sent to his parents when they first looked after our daughter. He printed an extremely detailed timetable and a list of instructions on how to care for her. (Real life quote: “Bathtub: It sits on the left end of the bathtub. The bathtub has a fill line. Do not walk past it or it will pop up and slip.”) This is our first and only child (and has spreadsheets for everything ), so I understand, but I think in general we parents need to relax. Grandparents – surprise – have done this before and should be given credit.
Yes, parents are parents and therefore can make all the major parenting decisions like sleeping together, when to stop breastfeeding, whether Mona can be veganized, and when it’s time to cut Wilder’s long naps, shaggy do. But when grandparents are out with the kids, let them have their own rules at home, as long as it doesn’t hurt the child (read: a little extra chocolate ice cream every now and then is probably just great). Here’s how the writer Denise Schipani said :
It seems to me that if I give my grandparents a booklet with rules and instructions, I should also give them a salary. In addition, by setting the rules for my parents, I partially try to mend their relationship with the grandchildren. I do not want to do this. I want them to figure out for themselves how they get along and what they enjoy doing together. This relationship is precious – because let’s face it, who knows how long it will be available to them?
Part of being a parent is welcoming other people into the lives of your children who are not you, and knowing that their lives will be brighter and better because of this.
If the grandparents are not in the picture, look for other grandparents.
If grandparents or other older relatives are not around for any reason, there are still ways to help your child experience the benefits of having a grandparent in their life.
Programs of all kinds are emerging that help spark intergenerational relationships – for example, a wonderful organization called Gma Village connects low-income parents in need of childcare support with a group of trained grandmothers to care for their children. In Seattle, a preschool exists in a nursing home . Where I live in Los Angeles, there is a program called Sage and Seekers, in which high school students talk to older people about the lessons they have learned in life.
It is also important to demonstrate kindness and compassion towards older people, primarily as part of a good person, but also to show your children that they are not weird or intimidating. If your preschooler notes that the woman sitting in the park is “old,” you might answer something like, “She must know so much about the world! Why don’t we go and say hello and talk to her? “
These connections have a lot to offer to members of every generation, so find them, nurture them, and celebrate them while you still have a chance.