Why Your Granddaughters Need You

Take them seriously, and make them stronger

By Jennifer Hartstein, PsyD

Princess Recovery by Jennifer L. Hartstein

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Jennifer L. Hartstein, PsyD, is a child and adolescent psychologist and the author of Princess Recovery: A How-To Guide to Raising Strong, Empowered Girls Who Can Create Their Own Happily Ever Afters. A regular correspondent for The Early Show, her  treatments promote strong self-awareness, distress tolerance, and acceptance. Learn more about her at DrJen.com, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

There are few relationships where the love is virtually unconditional and endless. One of those is the relationship between a granddaughter and her grandparents.

Studies have shown that children who grow up with strong bonds to their grandparents feel more emotionally secure than those who do not. The relationship is a pure one - looser, more playful, and less fraught with judgment and intensity than that between a child and her parents. As opposed to parents, grandparents get to have the "fun" without all the worry. It is incredibly powerful, and can have a positive impact on a girl's self-esteem.

I was lucky enough to live near my grandparents throughout my childhood. They came to all of my dance recitals, school plays, softball games – or at least as many as they could attend. (I did have a brother and cousins nearby, as well.) My friends envied that I could look to the sidelines and see my grandparents in their lawn chairs cheering us on. I reveled in the love, and appreciated their involvement in my life a great deal. It helped me feel confident in myself.

Thanks to modern technology, you do not need to live close to create this bond with your grandchildren today. My niece lives in California and my parents are in NYC. They have been video-chatting since she was an infant, allowing them to be a constant presence in her life. By staying connected, my parents play a supportive role for my niece, giving her a sense that she is cared about while building up a positive sense of herself.

So how can you, as a grandparent, be more involved with your granddaughter? How can you communicate with her if you are different? Here are some things to consider create a positive relationship:

Have one-on-one time
Find opportunities to spend time with just one grandchild at a time. This undivided attention helps build positive interactions and creates a special bond.

Find common ground
It is possible that you and your grandchild have similar interests. Maybe your granddaughter likes the theater, and so do you. Or maybe you both enjoy movies or sporting events. Find opportunities to share in these experiences together. Be sure to build in time to communicate.

Act (and be) interested
Ask open-ended questions about what is going on in your granddaughter's life. Inquire about her activities, friends, school. Learn about her interests. Don't be afraid to share things about your life, too.

Be accepting
Your granddaughter feels judged in many areas of her life. You are in the unique position of being able to provide her with a space in which she is fully accepted for who she is and what she has to offer. Validate her feelings and experiences. Not only will this help her feel heard and understood, it will promote ongoing communication.

Avoid pressure
You may feel as if you don't get enough time with your granddaughter. Your impulse may be to tell her that you wish you had more time together. Try to avoid this urge! It is difficult, but it is important not to create a sense of guilt. It could actually work against you, making your granddaughter resent your time together, rather enjoy it.

Take her seriously
As a grandparent, you can provide a calm space for your granddaughter. Take the time and listen to your granddaughter, and take her concerns seriously. The last thing you want to do is shut down an opportunity to help her. Try to be open and honest with her when she asks questions or expresses worries.

Although building a positive relationship with your granddaughter may take effort and planning, the return is well worth the effort. Not only will you have a positive impact on her sense of self, she may have the same effect on you.

Copyright © 2012 Jennifer L. Hartstein

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