Generally, grandparents have a few things at their disposal now that they didn't have when parenting their own children:
The wisdom that comes with experience. Don't you wish you knew then what you know now?
Fewer distractions. You remember, life with kids at home was filled with constant interruptions of all kinds.
A little more time. Or at least time you can control.
Those factors add up to a great advantage – they allow you to develop a significant, impactful relationship with your grandchildren. You can make the most impact when you interact with your grandkids in an age-appropriate way. Here are a few reminders of what kids need at different stages for physical, emotional and social development.
In their first couple of years, little ones learn to trust their caregivers by bonding with family members. Things that help a child feel safe and secure including holding, rocking, snuggling, stroking his skin (especially while maintaining eye contact and singing), smiling, or talking softly.
Toddlers (12-36 months)
Toddlers are learning where their bodies begin and end and they need to start navigating the world on their own. To be a part of their busy little world, you can get down on the floor and coax them to try new things. The goal is to allow them freedom to engage in their surroundings yet protect them from harm.
This engagement shouldn't be confined to their homes, either. Take toddlers on walks outside and let them roll in the grass, jump in puddles and just explore.
Kids this age also love stories. Cultivating a love of reading in your grandchildren will encourage skills in focus, concentration and memory. It also sets the stage for writing skills. And allowing him to sit on your lap and interact with the pages and pictures adds a little bonus for both of you.
Kids this age are beginning to form social relationships with people outside of the family. They're also learning expectations for societal routines they'll need to follow outside the home, such as standing in line, moving from one activity to another and taking turns.
They'll have learned some routines at home, church or in daycare. Even so, the introduction of new routines at school can be confusing for some kids. You can add clarity by practicing them at home. For example, you might engage a grandchild in a board game that requires taking turns.
These kids are developing reading, writing, math, and science skills and expressing interest in extracurricular activities such as music, art or sports. These are years of experimentation when kids need to explore a variety of interests to figure out special areas of emphasis that will encourage healthy development.
You can assist by encouraging your grandchildren to try many new things and by reinforcing the importance of discipline and practice to achieve success. It's helpful to share stories from your childhood, especially when you can tie a skill you learned with a life lesson.
This stage can be exciting and scary for kids. Adolescents are trying to form an identity and figure out how they fit into their peer group. They tend to make both good decisions and bad decisions about how and with whom they spend their time. And their choices might have positive or negative consequences.
If you've invested in your grandchildren's lives, they'll trust you as a sounding board. This is a time to reinforce their good decisions. You can also provide a place of respite for grandkids when tensions grow at home because of their poor decisions and the resulting consequences. In those stormy times, it's important to remain a neutral party and encourage resolution at home.
Depending on whether a child's adolescence has been pleasant or turbulent, teenagers launching into the post-high school years need to figure out how to do so while becoming more independent from their parents.
This is a time when you may want to switch gears and become a mentor to your grandkids, reassuring them that they have the skills to be successful and helping them become independent, competent young men or women who are supported by family.
Intentional grandparenting can make a big difference in your grandchildren's development. It represents an unprecedented opportunity for you to make a lasting, positive influence on their lives. Enjoy this gift God has given you.