A Grandparents' Guide
For Family Nurturing &
Changing Role of Grandparents
House on the Block
The Wonder Years
The most exciting thing about being a
grandparent is watching your own child become nurturing. The miracle of a new
baby is overwhelming, but to watch your son or daughter becoming a parent is
just as miraculous. We watch with awe, pride and, sometimes, trepidation as our
sons and daughters do their best to raise strong and healthy offspring. We know
how demanding a job that is. We want to help. We should help. And we do.
We want to keep our grandchildren safe and sound. We want to make our homes
and theirs safe havens where nothing bad can happen to them. We want to share
with our own children the lessons we learned-and learn a few new tips ourselves.
The contributions grandparents make to their families are extraordinary.
Some, like baby-sitting or giving them safe cribs or strollers, are tangible.
Others, like providing a role model for grandchildren, are intangible but just
as powerful and real. We do know that virtually every study of child development
shows that youngsters lucky enough to have loving grandparents are destined to
be winners. All research on single parents shows that the future of the children
is correlated with support from grandparents.
We also know that grandparents can make their children's job of parenting a
lot easier. When you lend a sympathetic ear to an upset parent you provide a
safe outlet for often difficult emotions. When you give your children a night
off by baby-sitting, you give them and your grandchild a much-needed break from
the inevitable strains of the nuclear family. When your children know that, in a
pinch, there is someone to step in to love their children and keep them safe,
you give them the most valuable kind of support.
More and more, we see grandparents providing reliable and dedicated child
care. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 1.3 million children
are entrusted to their grandparents every day. That same 1994 study says another
2.4 million children live in households headed by a grandparent. It means that
numbers of grandparents make it possible for the young ones to grow up in stable
homes and communities.
But it's the daily acknowledgment that we get from our children and
grandchildren that inspires us to develop and maintain those loving connections.
What fun to watch their eyes widen and sparkle when you tell your grandchildren
about how their mommy was as a small child! We know it's not always easy, that
it takes thought, finesse and devotion. It requires us to be emotionally
flexible and nurturing. We have to be vigilant and make our homes safe for
children. We need to take our role modeling seriously-for our children and
We hope we can help. Because
when grandparenting works, there's nothing better. We know. We're grandparents
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton Clinical Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at
Harvard Medical School and Chairman, Pampers Parenting Institute
Ann Brown Chairman, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
| Take your role seriously-you have a lot to give. With babies and toddlers, you
can be an additional source of love and care. For school-age children, you can
teach family values and history. You can inspire older children and adolescents
to want to grow up to be like you. To do that, you have to be a consistent
presence in their lives. If you can, offer to babysit regularly or when needed.
That allows you to lavish all your special attention on your grandchildren. At
the same time, you'll win the eternal gratitude of your children, who need
In between visits, fill in the gaps with a weekly phone call to the child at
a pre-arranged time. Encourage each child to share a "news" item with
you, something only he or she can reveal. That way a phone call becomes an event
that everyone looks forward to.
Videotapes are another wonderful way of keeping up with your grandchildren's
everyday experiences and milestones. Of course, exchange letters or e-mail and
ask for packages of drawings and schoolwork. They give you insight into how
they're developing and what interests them. Your positive-feedback-praise helps
to build self-esteem they'll need to get along in the world.
Read a story or conjure up a fantasy for them on videotape. Let them hear it
at bedtime. That way, they'll remember you between visits.
Your active participation instills a sense of family and continuity that
adds to your grandchildren's feeling of belonging and security. You can magnify
that by sharing your family history. Children love stories about when their
parents were young-the time Mommy fell out of the apple tree and didn't break a
bone, or when Daddy woke up at 3:00 in the morning because he couldn't wait for
his birthday presents.
Holidays are another opportunity to bring the family tradition to children
and create memories that help make your family close.
Grandparents make profound contributions
to their families, so take your role seriously. Babysit on a regular or
as-needed basis, if you can. It allows you and your grandchildren to develop
trust and understanding, and gives parents much-needed downtime.
Encourage everyone to celebrate them at your house. When that's not
possible, link up by phone and take time to talk about family beliefs and
rituals. Even when there is resistance about getting together, it is worth it.
They never forget rituals. We need values for our children and grandchildren,
and this is a way to perpetuate them.
those of us who live too far away, or are not able to babysit, there
are lots of other ways to stay close. Arrange for regular visits with
your grandchildren and have them visit you. See each grandchild separately
if you can. The kind of individual attention you give is key. My 14-year-old
granddaughter, Lil, and I love to go shopping together. Tommy, 9,
comes down for a Dallas-Redskins game with Grandpa. And Abigail, 11,
loves to swim with me.
Making rituals out of meeting with your grandchildren, having things that
you do only with them, makes them feel unique. Besides, taking them to the zoo
or to a special restaurant is fun for you, too.
One of the things I have always loved doing with my grandchildren is taking
them to the nearby playground. It's a wonderful place for children to have fun
and run off steam.
But, as caretakers of our grandchildren, even for an afternoon, we need to
be careful. Most serious injuries on playgrounds come from falls onto hard
surfaces. In fact, grass is one of the worst surfaces because it can become
hard, packed dirt.
Checking for playground surfacing that "gives" is extremely
important. Wood chips, mulch, sand, pea gravel, or rubber matting are all good
choices. After all, you want your time together to be full of fun, not tears.
Even today, I have scars on my knees from falls on my old neighborhood
The constant contact with your grandchildren teaches you how to really
listen to them, to understand what they mean to say, not just the words they
use. There was a time I brought my granddaughter Lil to my office for the annual
"Take Our Daughters To Work Day." I asked all the girls, "Who
wears a bike helmet?" Almost all of them except Lil raised their hands. I
asked her why, and she said, "Gramma Ann, I look like a dork." I
figured if she felt that way, so must hundreds of others who would rather go
without protection than look unhip. A project we did with the Automobile
Association of America confirmed the fear. So we went to the bike helmet
manufacturers who redesigned them-put in bright colors and sparkle. Now my
granddaughter tells me, "You know, Gramma Ann, they're awesome."
When we take our grandchildren's words seriously and respect their opinions,
they do let us know what's going on. That strengthens the growing bonds between
you and your grandchild.
Have special things that you do with
each grandchild on an individual basis. It makes them feel unique and important.
Share family history, traditions, and holidays with your grandchildren. It
helps instill a sense of family, belonging, continuity and security.
| Even with all the advantages of an extended family, the course of those
relationships doesn't always run smooth. Parents and grandparents are bound to
disagree over child-rearing choices. The trick is in knowing how to cool the
friction before the fire gets out of hand.
What most young parents need from their own parents is sympathetic support,
not advice and criticism. While it's sometimes painful to watch your children go
through the trial-and-error of parenthood, it's part of their learning curve.
It's best to let them know you're there for them, that you're willing and eager
to listen and that you'd be glad to offer the wisdom of your own experience if
and when they want it. A regular "date" with them to let your child
unload is a sure way of keeping in touch.
Occasionally, our children or grandchildren will do something we feel so
strongly about, we'll want to intervene right then and there. Resist temptation.
It only undermines the parents in front of the children and sets up tensions.
The time to talk about the problem is calmly and reasonably and privately. Even
if you ultimately disagree, it inspires trust when you accept their parenting
decisions. Remind your children of their own childhood crises and how they
Grandparents must respect their children as the parents. Grandparents are
notorious for overindulging their young charges, and parents often worry that
this will undercut their own child-rearing efforts. However, Grandma and
Grandpa's treats, no matter how frequent, are just one more sign to children
that they are cherished. Grandparents can be tolerant, loving and supportive,
without having to discipline and instruct the way parents must. They can afford
to see all the good things in a child and ignore the bad. That's a wonderful
mirror into which a child can look.
Children always know that their parents' insistence on proper nutrition and
a sensible bedtime is good and loving in the most profound sense. So when it
comes to major issues, grandparents should always abide by the limits set by the
parents to avoid confusion and bad feeling on all sides.
One of the great gifts we have is our ability to influence young children.
Removed from the power struggles of the immediate family a grandparent isn't
Respect the rules and limits that your
children set for their children. Grandparents should indulge their
grandchildren-within reason. When it comes to the major issues, abide by the
to meet with as much resistance as a parent would in suggesting a child do
some homework or set the table. It is one way grandparents help parents by
reinforcing the values that parents want to instill.
Let your children know that you made more than your share of mistakes when
they were little, and that, just as they do now, you had to learn how to take
good care of them. I will never forget the time when my baby daughter Laura was
about to swallow something that looked to her like a piece of cherry candy. It
wasn't candy. It was a bright-red glue pellet from a craft set. That is how I
learned the importance of baby-proofing our home.
|Then my grown-up daughter had the fun of reminding me of those lessons
when my own grandchildren were little and she brought them to visit
me. She went around my house to be sure I had put all the peanuts
and candies up high-and locked away the pills-and put safety plugs
on the electrical outlets.
Where babies are concerned, we can all use good advice. But as a
grandparent, I try hard not to give it unless I'm asked. It's much better if I
wait until I hear, "Mom, I need advice."
It may be our privilege as grandparents to indulge and maybe even spoil our
grandchildren a bit. For example, I may buy more toys or treats for my
grandchildren than I did for my daughters. But you need to be careful, too. A
friend of mine, a new grandmother, proudly showed me the toy she bought for her
two-year-old grandson. The age label on the toy was for an older child. Like me,
she thought she had the smartest grandchild imaginable, and the toy would
challenge him. But those age labels on toys are often safety recommendations,
not measures of skill or ability. By providing appropriate playthings, you can
spoil your grandchildren and keep them safe at the same time.
We're there with the power of example. Try not to force your beliefs.
Rather, in a loving and con-versational way, set a good example. For instance,
my grandchildren see me in my job giving back to society. They've got the idea
that's a good thing from watching what I do and how much I care about child
safety. They've become safety ambassadors, very interested in safety for
themselves and for their friends. It's your very presence that affects them.
You're a grandparent figure. If you're informal, loving, friendly and casual,
and you set a good example, it's the best way to encourage learning, values and
connection that go beyond your family to the community and society at large.
Be sympathetic and supportive when your
children run into parenting difficulties. Resist the temptation to intervene
with advice and criticism. Never take your grandchildren's side in a dispute
they may have with their parents. It undermines parental authority.
| Making your home safe for your grandchildren is an ongoing project that changes
with each stage of his or her development. What works for a newborn isn't going
to be enough for a crawling, alert 8-month-old, and certainly not for an
inquisitive toddler. Daunting as it seems now, I can assure you, it'll seem less
so as you grow along with your grandchild. It's an effort that will make you,
your grandchildren and their parents feel relaxed and secure.
Maintain an "emergency procedure" that allows you to quickly
contact your grandchild's doctor, hospital emergency room and poison control
center. Keep these phone numbers by every phone in the house when your
grandchild is visiting.
One way that will help you see potential hazards to your grandchildren is to
get down on your hands and knees and see a room from their perspective.
Lavish your grandchildren with positive
feedback on everything from schoolwork to arts projects. Your praise helps build
self-esteem they'll need to get along in the world.
Never underestimate your grandchild's ability to climb, explore or move
furniture to reach something high up. Follow the U.S. Consumer Product Safety
Commission's Grandchild Safety Checklist to ensure your home will be safe for
| It's important to keep in close touch with your children and respect the way
they raise their own children. While you have considerably more experience in
child-rearing, there are still things your children can teach you. For example,
when I was a young mother, I thought I was keeping my daughters safe by putting
them to sleep on their stomachs. Well, parents today are putting infants to
sleep on their backs-which has dramatically reduced the risk of Sudden Infant
Death Syndrome (SIDS). We've also learned that putting babies to sleep on top of
comforters or pillows, no matter how beautiful, may be associated with infant
suffocation.Even that special old crib you've kept for your long-awaited
grandchild may be dangerous because it doesn't meet current safety standards. As
grandparents, then, it's important for us to be attuned to changes in
child-rearing and safety practices.
Below a practical, no-frills, easy-to-use checklist from the U.S. Consumer
Product Safety Commission to get you started. Use these tips to keep your
grandchildren safe. (Please note: Many of these safety tips apply to children of
all ages from infants to preschoolers, but have been broken down into age ranges
for easier reference. )
Young infants follow objects with their eyes.
They explore with their hands, feet and mouths. They begin sitting
Older infants crawl and learn to walk. They enjoy bath
play and explore objects by banging and poking.
Toddlers have lots of energy and curiosity.
They like exploring, climbing and playing with small objects.
Preschoolers are very active. They run, jump and climb.
Put your grandchild to sleep on his or her back in a crib with
a firm, flat mattress and no soft bedding underneath.
Make sure your crib is sturdy, with no loose or missing hardware; used cribs
may not meet current safety standards.
Don't give grandchildren toys or other items with small parts, or tie toys
around their necks.
In a car, always buckle your grandchild in a child safety seat on the back
Never leave your grandchild alone for a moment near any water or in the
bathtub, even with a bath seat; check bath water with your wrist or elbow to be
sure it is not too hot.
Don't leave a baby unattended on a changing table or other nursery
equipment; always use all safety straps.
If you use a baby walker for your grandchild, make sure it has special
safety features to prevent falls down stairs, or use a stationary activity
Keep window blind and curtain cords out of reach of grandchildren; dress
grandchildren in clothing without drawstrings.
Keep all medicines in containers with safety caps; be sure medicines,
cleaning products, and other household chemicals are out of reach and locked
away from children.
Use safety gates for stairs, safety plugs for electrical outlets, and safety
latches for drawers and cabinets.
Buy toys labeled for children under age 3; these are often safety
recommendations, not measures of a child's skill or ability.
Never leave your grandchildren alone in or near swimming pools.
Keep children-and furniture they can climb on-away from windows.
At playgrounds, look for protective surfacing under equipment.
Be sure your grandchildren wear helmets when riding tricycles or bicycles.
At all ages, make sure your smoke detectors work; keep matches and lighters
away from children.
T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. may be most recognized by parents and health
professionals alike for his many books on family and child development and for
his television show What Every Baby Knows. But Dr. Brazelton is also renowned
for his pioneering scientific work and his pediatric practice, which led him to
believe that a newborn baby arrives in a family with a strong individuality. He
found that a baby's behavior gives wonderful clues for parents and strengthens
the bond between baby and parents. He has also focused on cross-cultural
differences in parenting and child behavior, and on the importance of early
intervention for at-risk infants and their families.
Dr. Brazelton is currently Chairman of the Pampers Parenting Institute, a
one-stop resource center for parents seeking advice from experts.
His classic book, Infants and Mothers, has reached nearly one million
families in this country and is translated into 18 languages. Touchpoints is his
most recent book for parents, and is reaching half a million families to date.
In 1972, Dr. Brazelton helped establish the Child Development Unit at
Children's Hospital in Boston. There, Dr. Brazelton also oversees the
Touchpoints Project and The Brazelton Institute. His interest in children and
families has also led him into the halls of the U.S. Congress, where he has
testified on the importance of the Family and Medical Leave Act and of child
care and support for all working parents. In 1989, Congress appointed him to the
National Commission on Children. He is a parent advocate. His research
establishes the baby's contribution through the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment
and is used all over the world to reach parents.
Ann Brown was sworn in as Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety
Commission (CPSC) on March 10, 1994. She was nominated by President Clinton and
confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a Commissioner and the seventh Chairman of the
As Chairman, Ann Brown's goal is to keep families- especially children-safe
in their homes. She has frequently cited the equal responsibility of consumers,
industry and the CPSC in promoting consumer safety. Her actions on behalf of
children have earned Chairman Brown the "Champion of Safe Kids Award"
from the National Safe Kids Campaign, the "Humanitarian of the Year"
award from the Danny Foundation, and the "Clarion Award" from the
National Parents Day Coalition. In 1995, Chairman Brown received the "Government
Communicator of the Year Award," and in 1996, the "Golden Trumpet
Award" from the Publicity Club of Chicago.
Her leadership of agency efforts to provide better customer service has
been honored with three awards for reinventing government from Vice President Al
Gore, including an award for outstanding improvement of CPSC's toll-free
hotline, its most direct link to the public.
For more than two decades prior to her appointment, Mrs. Brown was a
consumer advocate. She served as vice president of the Consumer Federation of
America for nearly 15 years, and was chairman of the board of the consumer
advocacy group Public Voice from 1983 to 1994. In 1989, Mrs. Brown was named "Washingtonian
of the Year," by Washingtonian magazine.
THIS BROCHURE BROUGHT TO YOU BY:
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
The Pampers Parenting Institute provides a forum for
parents to interact with foremost child health and development experts.
Established in October 1996, the Pampers Parenting Institute, chaired
by Dr. Brazelton, is designed to be an important resource to providing
parents with the knowledge and advice they seek on children, newborn to
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is a federal
agency that helps keep families and children safe in and around their
homes. For more information, call CPSC's toll-free hotline at 1-800-638-2772
or visit its web site at http://www.cpsc.gov.
The "Grandparents' Guide" is
available free of charge from the Consumer Information Center (Item 606E),
Pueblo, Colorado 81009
Other Articles in
Robyn's Nest Home Safety Series:
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NOT induce vomiting with Ipecac?
Childproofing Your Home
Medicine to Young Children
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A Grandparent's Guide