A Grandparents' Guide For Family
Nurturing & Safety
The most exciting thing about being a grandparent
is watching your own child become nurturing. The miracle of a new
baby is overwhelming, but to watch your son or daughter becoming
a parent is just as miraculous. We watch with awe, pride and, sometimes,
trepidation as our sons and daughters do their best to raise strong
and healthy offspring. We know how demanding a job that is. We want
to help. We should help. And we do.
We want to keep
our grandchildren safe and sound. We want to make our homes and
theirs safe havens where nothing bad can happen to them. We want
to share with our own children the lessons we learned-and learn
a few new tips ourselves.
grandparents make to their families are extraordinary. Some, like
baby-sitting or giving them safe cribs or strollers, are tangible.
Others, like providing a role model for grandchildren, are intangible
but just as powerful and real. We do know that virtually every study
of child development shows that youngsters lucky enough to have
loving grandparents are destined to be winners. All research on
single parents shows that the future of the children is correlated
with support from grandparents.
We also know
that grandparents can make their children's job of parenting a lot
easier. When you lend a sympathetic ear to an upset parent you provide
a safe outlet for often difficult emotions. When you give your children
a night off by baby-sitting, you give them and your grandchild a
much-needed break from the inevitable strains of the nuclear family.
When your children know that, in a pinch, there is someone to step
in to love their children and keep them safe, you give them the
most valuable kind of support.
More and more,
we see grandparents providing reliable and dedicated child care.
In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 1.3 million
children are entrusted to their grandparents every day. That same
1994 study says another 2.4 million children live in households
headed by a grandparent. It means that numbers of grandparents make
it possible for the young ones to grow up in stable homes and communities.
But it's the
daily acknowledgment that we get from our children and grandchildren
that inspires us to develop and maintain those loving connections.
What fun to watch their eyes widen and sparkle when you tell your
grandchildren about how their mommy was as a small child! We know
it's not always easy, that it takes thought, finesse and devotion.
It requires us to be emotionally flexible and nurturing. We have
to be vigilant and make our homes safe for children. We need to
take our role modeling seriously-for our children and grandchildren.
We hope we can
help. Because when grandparenting works, there's nothing better.
We know. We're grandparents too.
Sincerely, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton Clinical Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical
School and Chairman, Pampers Parenting Institute Ann Brown Chairman, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
T. Berry Brazelton
Take your role seriously-you have a
lot to give. With babies and toddlers, you can be an additional
source of love and care. For school-age children, you can
teach family values and history. You can inspire older children
and adolescents to want to grow up to be like you. To do
that, you have to be a consistent presence in their lives.
If you can, offer to babysit regularly or when needed. That
allows you to lavish all your special attention on your
grandchildren. At the same time, you'll win the eternal
gratitude of your children, who need downtime.
In between visits, fill in the gaps with a weekly phone call to
the child at a pre-arranged time. Encourage each child to
share a "news" item with you, something only he or she can
reveal. That way a phone call becomes an event that everyone
looks forward to.
Videotapes are another wonderful way of keeping up with your grandchildren's
everyday experiences and milestones. Of course, exchange
letters or e-mail and ask for packages of drawings and schoolwork.
They give you insight into how they're developing and what
interests them. Your positive-feedback-praise helps to build
self-esteem they'll need to get along in the world.
Read a story or conjure up a fantasy for them on videotape.
Let them hear it at bedtime. That way, they'll remember
you between visits.
make profound contributions to their families, so
take your role seriously.
Babysit on a regular or as-needed basis, if
you can. It allows you and your grandchildren
to develop trust and understanding, and gives
parents much-needed downtime.
Your active participation instills a sense of family and continuity
that adds to your grandchildren's feeling of belonging and
security. You can magnify that by sharing your family history.
Children love stories about when their parents were young-the
time Mommy fell out of the apple tree and didn't break a bone,
or when Daddy woke up at 3:00 in the morning because he couldn't
wait for his birthday presents.
Holidays are another opportunity to bring the family tradition
to children and create memories that help make your family
close. Encourage everyone to celebrate them at your house.
When that's not possible, link up by phone and take time
to talk about family beliefs and rituals. Even when there
is resistance about getting together, it is worth it. They
never forget rituals. We need values for our children and
grandchildren, and this is a way to perpetuate them.
For those of us who live too far away,
or are not able to babysit, there are lots of other ways
to stay close. Arrange for regular visits with your grandchildren
and have them visit you. See each grandchild separately
if you can. The kind of individual attention you give is
key. My 14-year-old granddaughter, Lil, and I love to go
shopping together. Tommy, 9, comes down for a Dallas-Redskins
game with Grandpa. And Abigail, 11, loves to swim with me.
Making rituals out of meeting with your grandchildren, having
things that you do only with them, makes them feel unique.
Besides, taking them to the zoo or to a special restaurant
is fun for you, too.
One of the things I have always loved doing with my grandchildren
is taking them to the nearby playground. It's a wonderful
place for children to have fun and run off steam.
But, as caretakers of our grandchildren,
even for an afternoon, we need to be careful. Most serious
injuries on playgrounds come from falls onto hard surfaces.
In fact, grass is one of the worst surfaces because it can
become hard, packed dirt.
Checking for playground surfacing that
"gives" is extremely important. Wood chips, mulch, sand,
pea gravel, or rubber matting are all good choices. After
all, you want your time together to be full of fun, not
tears. Even today, I have scars on my knees from falls on
my old neighborhood playground.
things that you do with each grandchild on an individual
basis. It makes them feel unique and important.
Share family history, traditions, and holidays
with your grandchildren. It helps instill a sense
of family, belonging, continuity and security.
The constant contact with your grandchildren teaches you how to
really listen to them, to understand what they mean to say,
not just the words they use. There was a time I brought my
granddaughter Lil to my office for the annual "Take Our Daughters
To Work Day." I asked all the girls, "Who wears a bike helmet?"
Almost all of them except Lil raised their hands. I asked
her why, and she said, "Gramma Ann, I look like a dork." I
figured if she felt that way, so must hundreds of others who
would rather go without protection than look unhip. A project
we did with the Automobile Association of America confirmed
the fear. So we went to the bike helmet manufacturers who
redesigned them-put in bright colors and sparkle. Now my granddaughter
tells me, "You know, Gramma Ann, they're awesome."
When we take our grandchildren's words seriously and respect their
opinions, they do let us know what's going on. That strengthens
the growing bonds between you and your grandchild.
Even with all the advantages of an extended
family, the course of those relationships doesn't always
run smooth. Parents and grandparents are bound to disagree
over child-rearing choices. The trick is in knowing how
to cool the friction before the fire gets out of hand.
What most young parents need from their own parents is sympathetic
support, not advice and criticism. While it's sometimes
painful to watch your children go through the trial-and-error
of parenthood, it's part of their learning curve. It's best
to let them know you're there for them, that you're willing
and eager to listen and that you'd be glad to offer the
wisdom of your own experience if and when they want it.
A regular "date" with them to let your child unload is a
sure way of keeping in touch.
Occasionally, our children or grandchildren will do something
we feel so strongly about, we'll want to intervene right
then and there. Resist temptation. It only undermines the
parents in front of the children and sets up tensions. The
time to talk about the problem is calmly and reasonably
and privately. Even if you ultimately disagree, it inspires
trust when you accept their parenting decisions. Remind
your children of their own childhood crises and how they
Grandparents must respect their children as the parents. Grandparents
are notorious for overindulging their young charges, and
parents often worry that this will undercut their own child-rearing
efforts. However, Grandma and Grandpa's treats, no matter
how frequent, are just one more sign to children that they
are cherished. Grandparents can be tolerant, loving and
supportive, without having to discipline and instruct the
way parents must. They can afford to see all the good things
in a child and ignore the bad. That's a wonderful mirror
into which a child can look.
Respect the rules and
limits that your children set for their children.
Grandparents should indulge their grandchildren-within
reason. When it comes to the major issues, abide by
the parental guidelines.
Children always know that their parents' insistence on proper
nutrition and a sensible bedtime is good and loving in the
most profound sense. So when it comes to major issues, grandparents
should always abide by the limits set by the parents to avoid
confusion and bad feeling on all sides.
One of the great gifts we have is our ability to influence young
children. Removed from the power struggles of the immediate
family a grandparent isn't likely to meet with as much resistance
as a parent would in suggesting a child do some homework
or set the table. It is one way grandparents help parents
by reinforcing the values that parents want to instill.
Let your children know that you made
more than your share of mistakes when they were little,
and that, just as they do now, you had to learn how to take
good care of them. I will never forget the time when my
baby daughter Laura was about to swallow something that
looked to her like a piece of cherry candy. It wasn't candy.
It was a bright-red glue pellet from a craft set. That is
how I learned the importance of baby-proofing our home.
Then my grown-up daughter had the fun of reminding me of those
lessons when my own grandchildren were little and she brought
them to visit me. She went around my house to be sure I
had put all the peanuts and candies up high-and locked away
the pills-and put safety plugs on the electrical outlets.
Where babies are concerned, we can all use good advice. But as
a grandparent, I try hard not to give it unless I'm asked.
It's much better if I wait until I hear, "Mom, I need advice."
It may be our privilege as grandparents to indulge and maybe even
spoil our grandchildren a bit. For example, I may buy more
toys or treats for my grandchildren than I did for my daughters.
But you need to be careful, too. A friend of mine, a new
grandmother, proudly showed me the toy she bought for her
two-year-old grandson. The age label on the toy was for
an older child. Like me, she thought she had the smartest
grandchild imaginable, and the toy would challenge him.
But those age labels on toys are often safety recommendations,
not measures of skill or ability. By providing appropriate
playthings, you can spoil your grandchildren and keep them
safe at the same time. It may be our privilege as grandparents
to indulge and maybe even spoil our grandchildren a bit.
For example, I may buy more toys or treats for my grandchildren
than I did for my daughters. But you need to be careful,
too. A friend of mine, a new grandmother, proudly showed
me the toy she bought for her two-year-old grandson. The
age label on the toy was for an older child. Like me, she
thought she had the smartest grandchild imaginable, and
the toy would challenge him. But those age labels on toys
are often safety recommendations, not measures of skill
or ability. By providing appropriate playthings, you can
spoil your grandchildren and keep them safe at the same
and supportive when your children run into parenting
difficulties. Resist the temptation to intervene with
advice and criticism.
Never take your grandchildren's side in a dispute
they may have with their parents. It undermines
We're there with the power of example. Try not to force your beliefs.
Rather, in a loving and con-versational way, set a good
example. For instance, my grandchildren see me in my job
giving back to society. They've got the idea that's a good
thing from watching what I do and how much I care about
child safety. They've become safety ambassadors, very interested
in safety for themselves and for their friends. It's your
very presence that affects them. You're a grandparent figure.
If you're informal, loving, friendly and casual, and you
set a good example, it's the best way to encourage learning,
values and connection that go beyond your family to the
community and society at large.
Making your home safe for your grandchildren
is an ongoing project that changes with each stage of his
or her development. What works for a newborn isn't going
to be enough for a crawling, alert 8-month-old, and certainly
not for an inquisitive toddler. Daunting as it seems now,
I can assure you, it'll seem less so as you grow along with
your grandchild. It's an effort that will make you, your
grandchildren and their parents feel relaxed and secure.
Lavish your grandchildren
with positive feedback on everything from schoolwork
to arts projects. Your praise helps build self-esteem
they'll need to get along in the world.
Maintain an "emergency procedure" that allows you to quickly contact
your grandchild's doctor, hospital emergency room and poison
control center. Keep these phone numbers by every phone in
the house when your grandchild is visiting.
One way that will help you see potential hazards to your grandchildren
is to get down on your hands and knees and see a room from
Never underestimate your grandchild's ability to climb, explore
or move furniture to reach something high up. Follow the
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Grandchild Safety
Checklist to ensure your home will be safe for your grandchild.
It's important to keep in close touch
with your children and respect the way they raise their
own children. While you have considerably more experience
in child-rearing, there are still things your children can
teach you. For example, when I was a young mother, I thought
I was keeping my daughters safe by putting them to sleep
on their stomachs. Well, parents today are putting infants
to sleep on their backs-which has dramatically reduced the
risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). We've also
learned that putting babies to sleep on top of comforters
or pillows, no matter how beautiful, may be associated with
infant suffocation.Even that special old crib you've kept
for your long-awaited grandchild may be dangerous because
it doesn't meet current safety standards. As grandparents,
then, it's important for us to be attuned to changes in
child-rearing and safety practices.
Here is a practical, no-frills, easy-to-use checklist from
the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to get you started.
Use these tips to keep your grandchildren safe. (Please
note: Many of these safety tips apply to children of
all ages from infants to preschoolers, but have been broken
down into age ranges for easier reference.
Young infants follow objects with their eyes. They
explore with their hands, feet and mouths. They begin sitting
Older infants crawl and learn to walk. They enjoy
bath play and explore objects by banging and poking.
Toddlers have lots of energy and curiosity. They
like exploring, climbing and playing with small objects.
Preschoolers are very active. They run, jump and
Put your grandchild to sleep on his or her back in a crib with
a firm, flat mattress and no soft bedding.
Make sure your crib is sturdy, with no loose or missing hardware;
used cribs may not meet current safety standards.
Don't give grandchildren toys or other items with small parts,
or tie toys around their necks.
In a car, always buckle your grandchild in a child safety seat
on the back seat.
Never leave your grandchild alone for a moment near any water
or in the bathtub, even with a bath seat; check bath water
with your wrist or elbow to be sure it is not too hot.
Don't leave a baby unattended on a changing table or other nursery
equipment; always use all safety straps.
If you use a baby walker for your grandchild, make sure it has
special safety features to prevent falls down stairs, or
use a stationary activity center instead.
Keep window blind and curtain cords out of reach of grandchildren;
dress grandchildren in clothing without drawstrings.
Keep all medicines in containers with safety caps; be sure medicines,
cleaning products, and other household chemicals are out of
reach and locked away from children.
Use safety gates for stairs, safety plugs for electrical outlets,
and safety latches for drawers and cabinets.
Buy toys labeled for children under age 3; these are often safety
recommendations, not measures of a child's skill or ability.
Never leave your grandchildren alone in or near swimming pools.
Keep children-and furniture they can climb on-away from windows.
At playgrounds, look for protective surfacing under equipment.
Be sure your grandchildren wear helmets when riding tricycles
At all ages, make sure your smoke detectors work; keep matches
and lighters away from children.
Brazelton, M.D. may be most recognized by parents and health
professionals alike for his many books on family and child
development and for his television show What Every Baby Knows.
But Dr. Brazelton is also renowned for his pioneering scientific
work and his pediatric practice, which led him to believe
that a newborn baby arrives in a family with a strong individuality.
He found that a baby's behavior gives wonderful clues for
parents and strengthens the bond between baby and parents.
He has also focused on cross-cultural differences in parenting
and child behavior, and on the importance of early intervention
for at-risk infants and their families.
Dr. Brazelton is currently Chairman of the Pampers Parenting
Institute, a one-stop resource center for parents seeking
advice from experts.
His classic book, Infants and Mothers, has reached nearly
one million families in this country and is translated into
18 languages. Touchpoints is his most recent book for parents,
and is reaching half a million families to date.
In 1972, Dr. Brazelton
helped establish the Child Development Unit at Children's
Hospital in Boston. There, Dr. Brazelton also oversees the
Touchpoints Project and The Brazelton Institute. His interest
in children and families has also led him into the halls
of the U.S. Congress, where he has testified on the importance
of the Family and Medical Leave Act and of child care and
support for all working parents. In 1989, Congress appointed
him to the National Commission on Children. He is a parent
advocate. His research establishes the baby's contribution
through the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment and is used all
over the world to reach parents.
Brown was sworn in as Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission (CPSC) on March 10, 1994. She was nominated
by President Clinton and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a
Commissioner and the seventh Chairman of the CPSC.
As Chairman, Ann
Brown's goal is to keep families- especially children-safe
in their homes. She has frequently cited the equal responsibility
of consumers, industry and the CPSC in promoting consumer
safety. Her actions on behalf of children have earned Chairman
Brown the "Champion of Safe Kids Award" from the National
Safe Kids Campaign, the "Humanitarian of the Year" award
from the Danny Foundation, and the "Clarion Award" from
the National Parents Day Coalition. In 1995, Chairman Brown
received the "Government Communicator of the Year Award,"
and in 1996, the "Golden Trumpet Award" from the Publicity
Club of Chicago.
of agency efforts to provide better customer service has
been honored with three awards for reinventing government
from Vice President Al Gore, including an award for outstanding
improvement of CPSC's toll-free hotline, its most direct
link to the public.
more than two decades prior to her appointment, Mrs. Brown
was a consumer advocate. She served as vice president of
the Consumer Federation of America for nearly 15 years,
and was chairman of the board of the consumer advocacy group
Public Voice from 1983 to 1994. In 1989, Mrs. Brown was
named "Washingtonian of the Year," by Washingtonian magazine.