Written by: Dr Tessa Grigg and Bindy Cummings
Grandparents can provide so much for their children and grandchildren, and it is much more beneficial than just having a bit of fun! The research is clear: grandparents are good for grandchildren and grandchildren are good for grandparents. This article discusses the research findings and gives suggestions for children who do not have easy access to their grandparents.
As humans, we can be termed ‘cooperative breeders’ because our offspring are often cared for by people other than the child’s parents. In many cultures, grandparents are involved in the raising of children, providing direct care such as; feeding, holding, cleaning, carrying and supervising, while parents engage in work outside the home. The research below has grandmothers in focus as, traditionally they are more involved with the everyday care of children with research showing that maternal grandmothers invest the greatest amount of time in their grandchildren (1). However, as society changes, with more fathers taking on the role of primary caregiver and grandparents understanding the vital role they play, more grandfathers are also very involved with their grandchildren.
Recent research (2) shows that contact with grandmothers has been positively associated with the grandchild’s improved cognitive functioning, increased academic ability and decreased social, emotional and behavioural challenges. Grandmothers have also been shown to improve the mental health of teenagers (1).
On the flip side, American research (2) looked at the involvement of grandmothers with their grandchildren and found that emotional empathy was strong in the grandmothers who spent more time with their grandchildren. When the grandmothers looked at photos of their own grandchildren during the research, the MRI scan showed that they felt the joy expressed by the child, but equally, they felt the distress. The same response was not evident when they looked at photos of children or adults they did not know. The findings indicate that the grannies were working to understand their grandchild, and this improves the care they are able to give the child. Living close to grandparents has also been shown to be beneficial, particularly when grandparents provide some level of childcare so parents can return to work (3). Mothers are ten percent more likely to be in paid employment if a grandmother lives near the family. Grandparents often help families financially, and while there is support and sometimes strain in the grandparent/grandchild relationship, overall, children living close to grandparents with a good relationship are less likely to be depressed as adults (4). The research also showed that positive relationships with grandchildren reduced depressive symptoms in grandparents.
So yes, grandparents are good for grandchildren, and grandchildren are good for grandparents!
The problem is that many children do not live near their grandparents. So, what can a grandparent do to foster those positive relationships? Of course, regular visits are very helpful, making time to spend with the child doing things they like to do, but that is also not always possible. As you probably know, at GymbaROO-KindyROO we are not fans of ‘screen-time’. However, this is the exception to the rule. In this case, your video platform of choice is ‘top to the pops’. We know that making conversation on video with a toddler is a challenge as they are still working on their conversation skills and attention span! To make the experience better for the grandparent and the child, here are some tips:
- Schedule a video call when the child is having morning tea so that the grandparents can have ‘morning tea’ with them. There is lots to talk about and they have food they can show
- Pre-arrange with the grandparents that they will read a book. Everyone has the same book, the grandparent reads, and the parent and child turn the pages in their book
- Pre-arrange a music session. Everyone has the same instruments – wooden spoons, pot lids or ice-cream containers. Someone plays music and you all play percussion together. When they are older, this can be extended to dances. Maybe the child can teach a GymbaROO-KindyROO dance to their grandparents!
- Puppets are fun and the grandparents could put on a puppet show
- Rhymes and finger games are easy to do online
- As they get older, the games expand. ‘What’s missing?’ could be played on a video call. Have a tray with some items on it (the number of items depends on the age of the child), show the child, then cover the tray and items with a tea towel. Take an item away, then take tea towel off. The child needs to work out what is missing. As they age and improve at this game, more than one item can be removed, and you can also switch it up, so the grandchild becomes the ‘item remover’ for the grandparent
Hopefully these suggestions get your creative juices flowing. You’ll find that once you start, more games that can be adapted to video calls will surface.
Your time and love are what children need most. If you are ‘on the spot’, time is easier to arrange, however when you are not near, it is still an important element in building relationships, it just takes a little more effort and planning.
Dr Tessa Grigg (PhD, Dip Tch Primary and ECE) is an experienced teacher and the Research and Education Manager at GymbaROO-KindyROO.
Bindy Cummings (B.Ed hons) is a teacher, a GymbaROO early childhood neuro-developmental consultant and the co-creator of GymbaROO’s Active Babies Smart Kids series. She has been writing articles for GymbaROO’s First Steps magazine, digital platforms and media for over fifteen years.
- Helle S, Tanskanen AO, Pettay JE, Danielsbacka M. The interplay of grandparental investment according to the survival status of other grandparent types. Scientific Reports. 2022;12(1):1-9.
- Rilling JK, Gonzalez A, Minwoo L. The neural correlates of grandmaternal caregiving. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 2021;288(1963):1-10.
- Compton J, Pollak RA. Family proximity, childcare, and women’s labor force attachment. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series. 2011;17678.
- Moorman SM, Stokes JE. Solidarity in the Grandparent–Adult Grandchild Relationship and Trajectories of Depressive Symptoms. The Gerontologist. 2014;56(3):408-20.