Grandparents hold a very important place in children’s lives, offering a relationship that’s uniquely different to the one occupied by parents. We look at the mutual benefits – for kids, older people and parents – and explores how we can strengthen those bonds.
If you’ve ever watched the hit ABC TV series Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds or its successor, Old People’s Home for Teenagers, you’ll have witnessed just how mutually rewarding (and happy-tear-inducing!) relationships between older and younger people can be.
These heartwarming intergenerational social experiments showed that being around young people slowed cognitive decline and the onset of dementia in older people, and enhanced their overall physical wellbeing. Meanwhile, the kids and teens also benefited from heightened interpersonal skills – an undeniable win, win!
But it’s not all about research-driven outcomes – grandparents have always played an important role in the family dynamic. Arguably, an involved grandparent might be even more important today in busy, two-career or single-parent families.
They don many hats – from babysitter, nurse, caregiver, playmate, and friend, to surrogate parent and teacher. Their unique position of trust allows them to help nurture and shape their grandchildren’s lives.
The benefits of a grandparent-grandchild bond
Grandparents can offer their own distinct dose of kindness, humour, patience, guidance, family tradition, and companionship. They are often generous with their time, hospitality, advice and, in many families, offer a sense of security that children crave.
For the elderly, the benefit of this intergenerational interaction extends beyond the TV social experiments mentioned above into everyday life. The spark of youth keeps grandparents mentally alert, physically lively and offers them a sense of purpose. They are more engaged as they share the legacy of their lives with an active audience and experience a higher degree of happiness and life satisfaction overall.
Perhaps that’s why the first grandparent I spoke to for this article, said, “if I’d known grandkids were so much fun, I would’ve had them first!”.
What isn’t always recognised, however, is the positive impact that a close relationship between a grandparent and grandchild can have on the happiness and wellbeing of the wider family. Allowing parents the time for space, stress relief and self-care is essential, and when active grandparents facilitate that, it’s good for everyone.
Ways to nurture a rewarding bond
So how can we strengthen these connections when you’re up against a lack of time, intergenerational differences, or physical distance? Here are some simple ways to facilitate and support a close relationship between children and grandparents.
Share traditions and wisdom
Children love doing activities where you share something you love with them. A grandparent might share their love of cooking with their grandchildren, working together to bake their favourite, time-honoured recipes, shared through the generations. And post-COVID, doing these things online, regardless of where you are, feels so much more manageable.
Bonding over gardening or nature can also be good, and while proximity helps, it’s also an activity that can be done over FaceTime if distance is an issue. If it’s not, grandparents and grandchildren could try taking walks through gardens or national parks, explaining how each flower likes shade or sun and how to propagate from cuttings or seeds. Research has shown that gardening is great for kids – giving them a sense of responsibility and boosting their self-confidence.
Schedule regular family gatherings
A weekly or monthly family get together (either physical, or online) is a great opportunity to bring together several generations of your family on a regular basis – helping to develop a genuine relationship between the family and creating cherished memories.
Carve out time for holidays, celebrations and milestone events
If you have the resources, take those trips to be with family as much as possible. You’ll be glad you did.
Do the grandparents want to take your kids for a special outing? Come by to play with the kids, read a book or do puzzles or art projects with them? Yes, yes, yes please! Allow yourself to loosen the reigns and enjoy a much-needed break.
Make the most of technology
If distance makes personal get-togethers challenging, say hello via Zoom, FaceTime or WhatsApp. Set up regular times for your children to write letters, share photos and draw pictures for their grandparents – and create the best-ever pen pals your kids could have, while they gain new skills in the process.
Like any relationship, a close bond between grandkids and grandparents takes time, energy, commitment, and consistency. Regularly scheduled calls, activities or get-togethers help establish a rhythm, one your children will come to expect and associate with their grandparents, instilling a lasting bond.
What if grandparents aren’t in the picture?
If grandparents aren’t on the scene, a connection across generations can still be uniquely rewarding. Here are some ways that might be possible.
- Volunteer at a nursing home: This is a great way for kids or teens to meet and spend time with older people. You can engage in activities with them, listen to their stories, and provide the company they might lack in older age.
- Join a club or group for Seniors: Many communities have groups or clubs for older people. Joining one can be an excellent way to build relationships.
- Think about extended family members: If you have older relatives such as aunts or uncles, consider if they might appreciate your kids reaching out and getting to know them better.
- Take classes or workshops: Many local community places offer classes and workshops for older people, like art classes or cooking workshops. This can be a great place to connect with older people.
Remember, building relationships takes time and effort, even when they’re family. Be patient, show genuine interest, and be open to new experiences. Meaningful connections between the generations can lead to lasting memories that can be cherished for years to come.