Parenting has changed

Do you cringe with embarrassment sometimes when your children misbehave in front of your parents?

During the holidays there is more chance that grandparents will get to see their grandchildren, and it can cause a lot of tensions.

Parenting has changed a lot over the years. The way you bring up your children is very different to the methods used years ago. You are probably more loving and relaxed with your parenting, and the traditional male and female roles have been blurred. You are likely to use less physical punishments and more ‘positive discipline’.

Today, parenting is more centred around children’s needs than ever before. With outings, child-centred holidays and children’s activities. Technology and TV have a huge place in our children’s lives. Children are more free-spirited and may appear less ‘polite’ than in previous decades.

Feeling judged

All of the changes can impact on the way children are perceived by their grandparents. In some of families, tensions can arise when children misbehave, and parents feel judged when they try to deal with children’s behaviour.

As parents, you may feel in a lose/lose situation when spending time with your parents. Feeling that your children are not behaving as well as you would like. You may feel that your parenting skills are ‘lacking’ because you can’t ‘control’ your children. You may get annoyed when your children are impolite or have a melt-down or your parents point out any problems.

Benefits of grandparents

However, there are powerful benefits of children spending time with their grandparents. Grandparents have a wealth of experience in bringing up children, they often have more time and patience than parents have. And can provide grandchildren with a sense of family history.

They can provide respite and a safe haven for grandchildren and have their grandchildren’s best interests at heart. They help children develop relationships with people of different ages. As children grow older grandparents can also be a ‘sensible adult’ for teenagers to talk to, when they struggle with their relationship with their parents, or during their more challenging and rebellious phases!

How to encourage a good relationship between grandparents and grandchildren

So, what can we do to encourage the bond between children and their grandparents?

We should make frequent opportunities for our children to be in contact with their grandparents. Regular visits are great if possible. But if distance is a problem regular phone calls, e-mails, or Skype calls with a web-cam can help bring families closer.

Where possible children need face-to-face contact with their grandparents for a good bond to develop. So it’s good to arrange children to have holidays with their grandparents wherever possible.

Children may need our help in understanding the different expectations that grandparents have. It can help if you talk with your children well before a visit about a few things that would mean a lot to grandparents –like giving them a hug and a kiss when they arrive or saying please and thank you. (You can practice this with your children before a visit).

Grandparents may find the noise and running around harder to deal with. So it may be good to help your children find something quiet to do in the house or encourage them to expend some energy outside. You can also help your parents understand your children.

Preparing for a successful visit

It may be useful to have a conversation before a visit to plan how the children will be occupied. It may be useful if precious ornaments or breakables are moved out of the way.

If you are worried that your child is prone to tantrums or is in the middle of potty training it can help to explain any issues beforehand. If a child or teenager is reluctant to visit, or going through a difficult time it can be good to encourage grandparents to make a special effort to help them feel accepted, loved and valued.

Explain your parenting style

It is also useful to talk to your parents about your parenting style. You can explain what you plan to do if your child misbehaves and ask for their support. If your parents are particularly vocal about what was good when we were young, you can tactfully explain that our child-rearing is different from theirs. But you hope they will respect your choices and allow you to make your own mistakes.

Help grandparents understand positive parenting techniques

It may also be useful to help your parents understand the more positive parenting methods you are using with your children. You may use descriptive praise (where you notice and comment whenever the children do something well or show small improvements) or empathy (where you listen carefully and reflect the emotion to your child to help them deal with their feelings).

Explaining the positive benefits to your parents can help them realise that there are alternatives to punishments and negativity. Teaching your parents these skills can help them develop a more close loving relationship with their grandchildren – a bonus for everyone!

Finding activities grandparents and grandchildren will enjoy

To encourage children to develop a good relationship with grandparents it is so important for them to spend relaxed, happy times together. Encouraging grandparents to play children’s games, watch DVD’s together, learn how to play computer games or just build a Lego house together. Going for picnics or boat trips or walks in the park. Spending time on the swings or playing with a ball.

Remember to take plenty of photos so the children can remember the special times afterwards.

Playing and having fun

It is especially important for grandparents to enter the world of our children. Babies love to have books read to them or learn new nursery rhymes. Children love to receive letters or small items in the post. Ball games and paddling pools are fun for most children. Teenagers love to be shown quirky or funny YouTube clips or to get an occasional text message.

The more grandparents enter into their grandchildren’s lives the more connected they will feel. Remember that they had their children many years ago so may need some gentle encouragement, but they can find enormous pleasure in being with their grandchildren.

Good grandparents

Lastly, I would just say that I have been incredibly lucky with my own parents, whom I have visited weekly since I had my first baby. My own children love spending time with their grandparents. They bring their homework, and share funny stories and YouTube clips. We eat a meal together and share the news of the past week. During the holidays we arrange a weekly outing or meal out together.

My parents have never been critical of my parenting skills and accept my children’s habits and quirks. They have been extra supportive whenever my children have been going through a difficult patch –and never criticise my children. As a result, they are dearly loved by us all and all of our lives have been enriched by the relationship.

Grandparents can be a huge asset to our children’s lives. And it is so worth the effort to help bridge the gap and help our children develop close relationships with them. With a few preparations beforehand –with both our children and our parents –the bond can be reinforced and everyone benefits.

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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