Let’s start off with a question: if you have grandchildren, how often do you see them? Or if you’re a parent, how often do your kids see their grandma or grandpa? Do you think it’s too much, not enough, or just enough? According to a British study, 30% of grandparents see their grandchildren multiple times a week, and another study showed that 32% of grandparents see their grandchildren less than once a month, with grandmothers spending more time with their grandchildren than grandfathers. What do these statistics mean? Should kids be around their grandparents more?
Unfortunately, there’s no universal answer to how much time kids need to spend with their grandparents - it depends on the situation. But studies have shown that it’s beneficial for grandparents to meet their grandchildren at least once a week. With some exceptions, most grandparents love to spend time with their grandchildren. The theory of socioemotional selectivity tells us why: the older we get, the more we tend to prefer relationships with those closest to us, which is usually our family relationships. Interacting with children helps a grandparent stretch not only their body, but their brain. This, among other things, reduces the risk of memory loss. Grandparents who feel needed feel better, and spending time with grandkids makes them feel magical and enriches them in multiple ways.
It’s no surprise that time spent with grandparents is beneficial to grandkids as well. Grandparents are a fount of life wisdom, perspective, and optimism. The image of the always-irritated pensioner, which we sometime stereotypically create, is often far from reality. According to the theory of socioemotional selectivity, as people age, they become more emotionally stable and experience fewer negative emotions. It might be that as we age, we realise more and more how important it is to focus on the things that matter; we gain ‘life wisdom’. Grandparents are also usually in no hurry. When they are with their grandchildren, they’re present and they patiently listen to kids’ stories. In some cases, grandchildren tend to confide in their grandparents more so than their parents, because a parent is in the position of authority. Kids can gain a new level of wisdom and patience from their grandparents, which is why it’s important for them to spend time together.
Young kids have only a vague idea of what ‘the past’ is, because their understanding of time is still forming. Children might think that morning is always when they wake up and there’s light outside, or that dinosaurs lived during the age of princesses and castles. Children learn the best about the concept of the past from the tales of their parents and grandparents. When the next story time comes around, show grandkids pictures as you’re discussing what happened in the past. Look at old photographs and talk about the people they depict. Let children guess who is in the photo or what the kitchen or farm tools on the picture were used for. Older children can try to put the photos in the correct chronological order or compare how people used to live in the past with how they live now. It’s also really interesting for kids to learn what kind of toys their grandparents played with when they were young.
When exploring the past together, try to use all the senses. Children love snooping around the attic and rummaging through jewellery boxes and other treasures. Guessing ‘what is the purpose of this?’ can be turned into an interesting game by giving kids three options. In our barn, we used to have a shovel which was used for putting the bread in the oven. I always asked small children who came for a visit whether they thought it was used as a flyswatter for giant flies, a portable toilet seat, or for putting bread in the oven. They liked this game so much they began to come up with their own ideas about what the various tools in the barn and attic were used for. My teacher’s heart was happy because kids were developing their creative thinking as they proudly announced their ideas.
The best recipe for spending time together in a fruitful way for both kids and grandparents is to do what whatever they love. Grandparents can try to get their grandkids excited about a hobby they love - even if it’s playing chess, kids will show enthusiasm. The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can be full of games, joy, and imagination – in short, full of magic.
Author: Ladislava Whitcroft, Education Specialist at Lipa Learning
Peter K. Smith (2005). Grandparents and grandchildren. The Psychologist, 18 (11)
Daniel H. Mansson (2016) The Joy of Grandparenting: A Qualitative Analysis of Grandparents, Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, 14:2, 135-145
Burn, K., & Szoeke, C. (2015). Grandparenting predicts late-life cognition: Results from the Women’s Healthy Ageing Project. Maturitas, 81(2).
Hertzog, C., Kramer, A. F., Wilson, R. S., & Lindenberger, U. (2009). Enrichment effects on adult cognitive development. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9.
Arpino, B., & Bordone, V. (2014). Does grandparenting pay off? The effect of child care on grandparents’ cognitive functioning. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(2).
Dench, G. & Ogg, J.(2002). Grandparenting in Britain. London: Institute of Community Studies
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