Why Grandparents Are Good For Your Kids
Granny and granddad are really important to our children’s health and wellbeing, says Sam Smethers, chief executive of the charity Grandparents Plus. Discover how to nurture these family ties.
A child’s relationship with their grandparents can be one of the most important of their lives. Grandparents provide stability and support as kids battle life’s problems – from the smaller issues, such as homework struggles and learning to read, to serious traumas, such as their parents separating or dying. Grandparents also provide a cultural heritage and personal history that help the child understand who she is and where she has come from. But most importantly, grandma and granddad can provide a unique, loving relationship that can see a child through to adulthood. There are 14 million grandparents in the UK, with half of these aged under 65. Increasingly, they’re no longer the oldest in their families, as four and even five generation families become more common. The role that grandparents play in family life is set to grow as our population ages, simply because they will be around for longer.
Learning and sharing
There really is no limit to the activities that grandparents and grandchildren can share. One young granddad we met recently said he shared his love of vinyl records with his grandchildren, so that they could learn what ‘real music’ sounds like. Favourites tend to be days out at museums or the park, or simply spending time with them without feeling what most parents experience – the pressure to be doing something else.
Learning about the past is a key thing that grandparents and grandchildren can do together. I know from my own childhood how much I enjoyed hearing my nan’s stories of when she was a girl and what it was like living through the war. But grandparents can also pass on important life skills to help children become more independent, like cooking and money management, or those ‘soft skills’, such as being a good listener and showing empathy.
Always close by
Increasingly, families don’t tend to live around the corner any more, so it’s often thought that grandparents aren’t around for children. But research suggests otherwise. Nearly half of grandparents with pre-school age grandchildren say they see them weekly, as do one in four grandparents of teenagers. Modern technology such as Skype, webcams on laptops and PCs, mobile phones and Facebook mean grandparents have a range of ways to keep in touch. Many have overcome a reluctance to use computers if it means more contact with their grandchildren.
There are proven benefits to close contact. For example, research shows that children who have a grandparent involved in their care are less likely to be taken to accident and emergency departments with minor conditions. Another study found that teenagers who spend more time with their grandparents become more sensitive and considerate to others.
Grandparents don’t just provide support to kids – they are also very helpful to parents. Many families turn to grandparents as they feel the effects of financial pressures, reduced childcare support and cuts in public services. About £4 billion each year is given by grandparents directly to their grandchildren, with a third of grans and granddads putting money aside to give their children’s kids a leg up on to the property ladder later.
Grandparents also help many families cut costs by providing free childcare. One in three working mums already rely on grandparents for this reason. Many families move closer to grandparents when they have children to tap into this help, or seek to overcome distance with the ‘travelling granny’ phenomenon. This is the grandparent who travels some distance every week to provide childcare for their grandchildren, perhaps staying a night or two before travelling home again.
Usually, it is the younger grandparents in their 40s, 50s and early 60s who find themselves leaned on more for childcare. Some grandparents drop out of work or reduce their paid hours to help out. As the retirement age goes up, we will all be expected to stay in work for longer, so the number of grannies and grandpas trying to juggle work and childcare will increase.
Many families do have an enormous respect for the help, support and pleasure that grandma and granddad offer. When asked who they would turn to for advice about their own child’s health, a third of parents said their own mum or dad, ahead of friends, the internet or the media.
Grandparents often report that their grandchildren make them feel younger, and for most it is a very positive experience. But it is important to remember the 200,000 grandparents who have stepped in during a family crisis to raise their children’s kids – perhaps because a parent is ill, has died or been jailed, or has been abusing drugs or alcohol. In some of these cases, the grandchildren may now have complex emotional or behavioural problems.
Grandparents coping in these difficult situations often find that their health deteriorates. They experience isolation, stress and depression and, on top of that, around two thirds have a chronic health condition or disability themselves. While many say it is a rewarding experience and not one they would change, raising their grandchildren is not what they had planned for themselves as they approached retirement.
It’s clear we shouldn’t take granny and grandpa for granted. Make sure your kids let them know they appreciate them – after all, we all need some love.
Grandparents Plus is a national charity championing the vital role of grandparents and the wider family in children’s lives. For more information, visit www.grandparentsplus.org.uk or call their advice line on 0300 123 7015.
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