Two mistakes to avoid as a grandparent

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Grandparents play a vital role in grandchildren’s lives, often contributing experience, time and love. But the path doesn’t always run smoothly if they aren’t on the same page as the parents. Christchurch-based child development expert Dr Tessa Grigg shares two pitfalls to avoid.

Dr Tessa Grigg is the co-author, alongside Dr Jane Williams, of Grandparenting Grandchildren: New knowledge and know-how for grandparenting the under 5s.

Intended as a guide for grandparents helping to bring up their young grandchildren, it outlines the key influences on healthy development in the first five years of life – namely movement, music, sleep and food. Detailing the latest research in these areas, it provides advice on how best to integrate these elements into the children’s lives, even if the grandparents only look after the children a few hours a week.

Grigg says grandparents have a lot to offer, bringing wisdom and experience with them, and that they are often good at “clearing the decks” to spend focused time with a child, following their particular interests.

But the relationship with the parents is important too. Grigg, a part-time lecturer at the University of Canterbury and the research and education manager for ToddlerROO, KindyROO and GymbaROO, walks us through two common mistakes she sees that can affect the parent-grandparent relationship.

Mistake number 1: Not listening to the parents
The first mistake is saying ‘I’m the grandmother or grandfather and I’ll do what I like’ when looking after the grandchildren, Grigg says.

“This is just the fastest way to destroy a relationship.”

Grandparents need to take a cooperative “team approach”, she says. This means talking to the parents about their preferred way of managing things like bedtime routines, what the children eat, dealing with behavioural issues, and getting on board with these.

“It’s really important for grandparents to remember that they’re the support team, they’re the cheerleaders, but they’re not actually the captain of the team. The parents are the people who have to take responsibility for this child. Therefore, it’s important that parents and grandparents talk to each other about how they’re going to manage behavior and the kinds of things they’re going to do to help.”

Grigg’s book also covers the importance of healthy food and why giving out loads of junk food at Nanna’s isn’t necessarily a good idea.

“I’d like to think that we can move beyond using food as a treat. That the most exciting thing at Grandma’s house is the cookie jar.

“I know of one situation that when the Grandmother realised what she was feeding the child and the effect it was having on them – because she ended up with the child bouncing off the walls one day – it made her change her mind.”

This idea of working alongside the parents extends to buying big-ticket items for the family too. Not consulting the parents first can cause difficulties. She uses the example of buying a pushchair.

“You had your heart set on a certain kind of pushchair and your mother, or your mother-in-law arrives with this big flash whatever. And it’s just not what you wanted.

“People have bought trampolines and all kinds of things, thinking that they’re doing the family a favour, and yes, that typically is wonderful, but it might also just be the bane of the mother’s life.”

Mistake number 2: Being judgmental
The second mistake is being judgmental about what the parents are doing. Grigg encourages grandparents to learn more about the current thinking around parenting, saying things like the way we talk to children has changed significantly over the last few decades.

“For many grandparents, that is just the hardest thing – to not tell their children what (they think) they’re not doing right. I see it all the time.

“This is what this book is all about – giving grandparents the understanding of what is behind the current thinking, because lots of the young Mums are reading (the latest parenting information), they’re going to classes where it’s being taught to them. They’re engaged and they have access to heaps of information, and I think that dedication is really important.”

This doesn’t mean that if the parents are struggling with something, that the grandparents can’t still offer to help.

Grigg says a friend recently said to her ‘oh, don’t you just do grandparenting by feel?’

“And I thought no, actually, not in today’s world. You could, but I think you’d do a better job if you educated yourself a little bit about what’s changed.”

This story was first published by

<< For more grandparenting tips, see Liz Koh’s video interview with Dr Tessa Grigg (premium content).>>

Grandparenting Grandchildren: New knowledge and know-how for grandparenting the under 5s, by Dr Jane Williams, PHD and Dr Tessa Grigg, PHD.  Published by Exisle Publishing, RRP $32.99

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