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Up Your Summer Grandparenting Game

Watching the grandkids?
Here’s 8 tips to better connect with them.

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Are you providing summertime daycare of your grandchildren for your adult children? Even if you have done so in past years, try these tips for upping your grandparenting game.

1. Converse
Counterintuitively, many young people want to know about life for your generation when you were young. But how you go about it is important. Rather than a sermon of “back in my day,” bring up a few reminiscences that relate to your grandchildren’s interests, advised David Steitz, Ph.D. and psychology professor with Nazareth College who leads the gerontology program.

“Talk about your experiences when their parents were kids and what they remember growing up,” Steitz said. “It’s so different even when we were growing up.”

What did you do for fun with friends? What did an ice cream cone cost? What games were popular? What clothing was in style?
Ask about their thoughts on days gone by and truly listen to what they say is popular in their circles.

“A lot of kids don’t really know their grandkids very well,” Steitz said. “It’s breaking down a barrier, understanding there can be apprehension.”
Provide something to do while chatting, such as creating with Legos or playing a board game. Old-school activities like these are surprisingly entertaining for youth accustomed to screens.

“Kids now are scheduled all the time,” Steitz said. “There is never just an opportunity to just sit and have a conversation and get to know one another. They need to learn how to have a conversation, make eye contact with someone and engage. We live in a time where people want to just get their viewpoints out there and they barely listen. Why not take the time to slow down a little and just talk? That can happen around a bunch of different activities.”

2. Make something
Many young people have little idea how to make anything. Break out the crochet hook and yarn, paint and brushes or wood and sandpaper. But try to not rely only on craft kits. While it is important to learn to follow directions, kits skip much of the creative process.

3. Cook OR bake together
Spend time making food together, talking about family culinary traditions, both when their parents were small and in the larger sense of your ethnic heritage.

“It helps them learn about your background and why certain foods are prepared,” Steitz said. “They will know why parents make the foods they make.”

4. Fix something
Home and auto repairs are also outside the skillset of many young people. In addition to getting a helping hand, having the grandchildren assist can give them valuable skills. But make sure they are involved, not just a “go-fer” while you work.

5. Volunteer
“Look into volunteer opportunities because a lot of places are struggling with a volunteer shortage,” Steitz said.

This can not only benefit a worthy cause but also instill in the children a sense of civic duty and pleasure for helping others. Could they help you volunteer for a short-term project? The younger children are, the shorter their attention span.

6. Get outside
Try a walk, bike ride or visit to a place such as the zoo or a historic site. Take little ones to a playground to burn off energy and try a skate park for older kids. (Don’t forget the safety gear.) Pull out the sidewalk chalk and bubble wands.

“Create a space for them to ride their bikes and roller blades if you can,” suggested Shawn L. Ward, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Le Moyne College. “Kids love playing a game to create an obstacle course. Use what you have. With many games, creating it is just as fun as doing it. You can make it more complicated as they get older.”

7. Plan for rainy days
Play a favorite old movie with popcorn and a pillow fort.

“That makes it special,” Ward said.

Visit a museum, go to the movies or visit the library.

“They have children’s hours, reading hour, and toys,” Ward said. “It’s a space to socialize. Our public library system is a gift. It’s underutilized. It’s stimulating in a positive way. Some have lots of programming. Since it’s summertime and they’re away from school, think about the cognitive piece.

Give them goals, like how many books they can read.”

8. Keep a schedule
While it may seem fun to make Grandma’s house the Land of No Rules, Ward said that if you will be regularly watching the children, sticking with a schedule will help them enjoy their time with you more.

“Children want some routine so they can predict and expect what will happen,” he said. “It allows them to build some anticipation. They love a schedule. If they’re dropped off at 8 and picked up at 4, what’s the routine in the meantime? It mimics what they’d expect at school.”

Sticking with the same time for snacks, lunch and, if appropriate, naps, will help their appetite and circadian rhythm stay in sync.