In the not-so-distant past, extended families were the norm, with multiple generations residing on the same street, if not in the same house.
Today, the family unit is largely an amalgam of different situations. The rise of two-income families has pressured parents into finding childcare situations. Quite often, grandparents once again step in to offer guidance and support for youngsters. This can be a good thing for both the grandparents and the grandchildren.
Although a bevy of psychological research focuses on parent-child relationships, new evidence points to the benefits of the grandchild-grandparent relationship as well. Close relationships between these different demographics is often a sign of strong familial ties.
A study from researchers at Boston College discovered that emotionally close ties between grandparents and adult grandchildren reduced depressive symptoms in both groups. Research at the University of Oxford among English children between the ages 11 and 16 found that close grandparent-grandchild relationships were associated with benefits, including fewer emotional and behavioral problems and fewer difficulties with peers.
Adults and grandchildren alike benefit from relationships with their elders. Grandparents can provide a connection and exposure to different ideas while providing a link to family history and knowledge regarding traditions and customs not readily available elsewhere.
Kaci Treadaway with Veritas Counseling Center says, “Grandparents play such a vital role in what I would call supportive emotional care. Generally, grandparents are in a slower season of life with less distractions and possess the emotional capacity to invest and ‘tune-in’ to their grandchildren’s lives. Pursuing a child’s heart and giving a child the opportunity to feel fully known and fully loved supports the intricate process of that child growing into an emotionally well rounded adult.”
Nurturing grandparent-grandchild experiences may be easy for families where grandparents live in the same house or close by. For others, it may take some effort. The following are some ways to facilitate time spent together.
- Schedule regular family reunions or get-togethers. Host or plan multi-generation events that bring the family together and expose children to various members of their family.
- Promote one-on-one time. Have grandchildren spend time with grandparents in intimate settings. Alone time can be good for both and offers each undivided attention. A meal at a restaurant or time spent doing a puzzle or craft can be interesting to both generations involved.
- Video chat when possible. If distance makes frequent visits challenging, use technology to bridge that gap. Send photos, letters and electronic communications. Tech-savvy grandparents can use Skype or Facetime to stay in touch and speak one-on-one with their grandchildren.
- Share skills with each other. Either generation can play teacher to the other. Grandparents may have certain skills–such as baking, sewing or wood crafts–they can impart that may not be readily taught today. Children can help grandparents navigate computers, video games or sports activities.
Best of all, by pursuing these relationships, grandchildren can help grandparents feel younger, and grandchildren can learn new experiences from their grandparents.