"Spoil them and send them home." We've all heard that's the beauty of having grandchildren. But in the busy world of today, grandparents are often called on to do so much more when it comes to helping out with the care of their children's children.
Whether it's watching the grandkids for the day while mom and dad are at work or it's only for a few hours for the parents' date night, boundaries have to be drawn. And consistency has to be the key when watching the grandkids.
Mark Rhodes, a licensed family therapist at Cook Children's, believes all parties benefit with a quality relationship between the mom and dad of the kids and the grandparents.
"Often, conflict will arise concerning how grandparents raised their children," Rhodes said. "The sooner the parents and grandparents can sit down to discuss discipline styles, such as napping, eating schedules and playtime, the fewer misunderstandings and conflicts will arise. It is important for the grandparents to ultimately respect the parents' wishes concerning these primary issues. The parents also need to be flexible enough to understand their parents will most likely not do things the same way they do.
Rhodes said children can gain a lot from their grandparents' experience. Rhodes recalls his own grandfather talking to him about being a motorcycle cop in Minneapolis and instilling within Rhodes a respect for authority. That history helps kids have more of a sense of belonging and develop deeper roots, according to Rhodes.
If at all possible, grandparents should become involved in their grandkids lives starting with visiting them at the hospital at birth. Rhodes has noticed two types of grandparents as a family therapist. The first are involved from day one and are richly invested in their grandkids lives and the second type that will only see the grandkids on holidays or special occasions. Rhodes said it is important for the parents of the child to talk with the grandparents about the desire for them to play an important part of the children's upbringing.
"If the grandparents have always been an important part in the child's life, than the transition of leaving them with the grandparent will be negligible," Rhodes said. "If the child has not spent much time around their grandparents prior to them having to stay with the grandparents for a period of time it is a good idea for the parents and the child to visit the grandparents' home prior to the extended stay so the child can become more familiar with their surroundings. It is important for the parents to tell their child in a straightforward way about what will take place and when they will be back to pick them up."
While the grandkids can't wait to go see grandma and grandpa, they may become nervous or upset after spending time with them. They may be ready to see mom and dad. Rhodes said when that happens it is important for the grandparents to allow the child to express their fear. "Often times, we as adults try to tell the child that their fear is not reasonable or they should not feel a certain way," Rhodes said. "With anxious kids, this tends to make matters worse. In most cases kids can be redirected and will quickly overcome initial fears. It may help the child to sometimes to call or text their parent if the anxiety gets worse. The grandparents can often share from their own life experience when they were afraid of something, faced the situation, and overcame their fear. This helps improve their relationship with their grandkids."
But even though the grandparents want to see their grandkids as often as they can, parents can rely too heavily on the grandparents. Rhodes warns parents can take grandparents for granted. "We all live extremely busy lives and sometimes we simply assume the grandparents can care for grandkids at the drop of a hat without giving them proper notice," he said. "Grandparents are often times reluctant to say no to the parents out of fear of hurting their feelings or possibly losing the opportunity to see their grandkids. I believe both parties should be aware of this possibly taking place and should try to not take each other for granted."
The overly busy, frantic pace most of us live in today can create much insecurity for children. But grandparents can ease that insecurity by being there at the game or the recital. Rhodes said grandparents can be a special advocate for their grandchildren and he's seen how special the grandparents are to his own children. Rhodes even lets them spoil his kids a bit.
"I believe it is OK for grandparents to spoil their grandkids to a certain extent," he said. "Children can and should experience a special relationship with their grandparents. As in any situation, this can get out of hand. When or if the grandparents, either intentionally or unintentionally, undermine what the parents of their grandchildren are trying to do, a wedge will be created in the relationship. I think a lot of this can be prevented by the grandparents simply asking the parents if it is alright for them to buy them certain presents or do special favors for them."
Any time the grandchildren visit, it's special for grandparents. But to keep them safe from injury, grandparents need to keep in mind each stage of their grandchildren's 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. But a few helpful steps will make everyone in the family a little more secure, relaxed and safe.
Each year, approximately 113,600 children are treated for fire/burn injuries and more than 500 children under 14 die. Children under 4 years of age and children with disabilities are at the greatest risk of burn-related death and injury, especially scald and contact burns. Here are some ways to keep your grandchildren safer:
- Set your hot water heater at 120° or lower. Ask family, friends and other caregivers to do the same if your grandbaby spends a lot of time in other peoples' homes.
- Always test bath water before putting your grandbaby in the water.
- Don't hold your grandbaby when cooking or carrying hot liquids or food.
- Put lids on all hot drinks.
- Never microwave a bottle.
- Create a safe zone for your grandbaby when cooking or ironing, using a gate or playpen, or put the infant in a high chair or swing.
- Keep electrical cords away from your grandbaby. Remember curling irons and other items in the bathroom too.
- Use plug covers to ensure your grandbaby doesn't stick his or her fingers or metal objects in electrical sockets.
A few other seasonal tips for the winter:
- Keep candles out of your grandbaby's reach. Avoid any surface the grandbaby can reach by crawling or reaching up.
- Space heater fires are the most deadly of house fires, so think twice before using them.
- If you use a fireplace or space heater, make sure you have a barrier, such as a metal gate, to prevent your grandbaby from touching it.
Burns are among the most painful injuries children can suffer. If your grandchild suffers a burn, act immediately by taking these steps:
- Remove all clothing that is not stuck to injured area. Remove only the clothing that comes away easily. Be careful not to pull or pry fabric.
- Put cool (not cold) water or a wet cloth on the burn area.
- Do not put butter or mayonnaise on burn area.
- Take your grandchild to an emergency room if:
- Blisters are present
- The skin is broken
- The burn is on a hand or crosses a joint – for example an elbow, wrist or knee
- Otherwise, take your grandchild to his or her primary care provider.
- Give your grandchild acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Follow the directions for the correct dosage.
Grandchild Safety Checklist*
Young infants follow objects with their eyes. They explore with their hands, feet and mouths. They begin sitting and crawling.
- Put your grandchild to sleep on his or her back in a crib with a firm, flat mattress and no soft bedding.
- 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 toys they could tie around their necks.
- In a car, always buckle your grandchild in a car seat in the back seat.
Older infants crawl and learn to walk. They enjoy bath play and explore objects by banging and poking.
- 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 center instead.
- Keep window blinds and curtain cords out of reach of grandchildren; dress grandchildren in clothing without drawstrings.
Toddlers have lots of energy and curiosity. They like exploring, climbing and playing with small objects.
- 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.
- Remember toys labeled for children under age 3are often recommendations for safety, not measures of a child's skill or ability.
- Never leave your grandchildren alone in or near swimming pools.
Preschoolers are very active. They run, jump and climb.
- 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.
*Provided by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.