Grandparents cuddling grandchildrenDo you cringe with embarrassment sometimes when your children misbehave in front of your parents?

During the holidays there is more chance that grandparents will get to see their grandchildren, and it can cause a lot of tensions.

Parenting has changed a lot over the years, and the way we bring up our children is very different to the methods used years ago. We are more loving and relaxed with our parenting, and the traditional male and female roles have been blurred. We have less physical punishments and more ‘positive discipline’. Our parenting is more centred around children’s needs than ever before with outings, child-centred holidays and children’s activities. Technology and TV have a huge place in our children’s lives. And yet our children are more free-spirited and less polite than in previous decades.

All of the changes can impact on the way our children are perceived by their grandparents. In some of our families tensions can arise when children misbehave, and we feel judged when we try to deal with their behaviour. As parents we can feel in a lose/lose situation when spending time with our parents. We feel that their children are not behaving as well as we would like and we feel that our parenting skills are lacking for not being able to control our children. We get annoyed when our children are impolite or have a melt-down, and even more annoyed if our parents point out any problems.

And yet we as parents can also see the benefits of our children spending time with their grandparents. Our parents have a wealth of experience in bringing up children, they often have more time and patience than we have, and can provide children with a sense of family history. They can provide respite and a safe haven for our children and we know that they have their grandchildren’s best interests at heart. They help our children develop relationships with people of different ages. As children grow older grandparents can also be a ‘sensible adult’ for our children to talk to when rebellion and the need for independence causes difficulties.

So what can we do to encourage the bond between our children and their grandparents? We should make frequent opportunities for our children to be in contact with their grandparents. Regular visits are great if possible. But if distance is a problem regular phone calls, e-mails, or Skype calls with a web-cam can help bring families closer. However where possible children need face-to-face contact with their grandparents for a good bond to develop so holidays to see them are good to arrange wherever possible. Children may need our help in understanding the different expectations that our parents have. It can help if we talk with our children well before a visit about a few things that would mean a lot to our parents –like giving them a hug and a kiss when they arrive or saying please and thank you. (You can practice this with your children before a visit). Our parents may find the noise and running around harder to deal with, so helping our children find something quiet to do in the house or encouraging them to expend some energy outside can help.

We can also help our parents understand our children. It may be useful to have a conversation before a visit to plan how the children will be occupied, and if any precious ornaments or breakables would be best moved out of the way. If we are worried that our child is prone to tantrums or is in the middle of potty training it can help to explain any issues beforehand. If a child or teenager is reluctant to visit, or going through a difficult time it can be good to encourage our parents make a special effort to help them feel welcome and valued.

It is also useful to talk to our parents about our parenting style. We can explain what we plan to do if our child misbehaves and ask for their support. If our parents are particularly vocal about what was good when we were young, we can tactfully explain that our child-rearing is different from theirs, but we hope they will respect our choices and allow us to make our own mistakes.

It may also be useful to help your parents understand the more positive parenting methods you are using with your children. You may use descriptive praise (where you notice and comment whenever the children do something well or show small improvements) or reflective listening (where you listen carefully and reflect the emotion to your child to help them deal with their feelings). Explaining the positive benefits to your parents can help them realise that there are alternatives to punishments and negativity. And teaching your parents these skills can help them develop a more close loving relationship with their grandchildren – a bonus for everyone!

To encourage our children to develop a good relationship with our parents it is so important for them to spend relaxed, happy times together. Encouraging our parents to  play children’s games, watch DVD’s together, learn how to play computer games or just build a Lego house together. Going for picnics or boat trips or walks in the park. Spending time on the swings or playing with a ball. And remember to take plenty of photos so the children can remember the special times afterwards.

It is especially important for grandparents to enter the world of our children. Babies love to have books read to them or learn new nursery rhymes. Children love to receive letters or small items in the post. Ball games and paddling pools are fun for most children. Teenagers love to be shown quirky or funny YouTube clips, or to get an occasional text message. The more grandparents enter into their grandchildren’s lives the more connected they will feel. Remember that they had their children many years ago so may need some gentle encouragement, but they can find enormous pleasure in being with their grandchildren.

Lastly I would just say that I have been incredibly lucky with my own parents, whom I have visited weekly since I had my first baby. My own children love spending time with their grandparents. They bring their homework, and share funny stories and YouTube clips. We eat a meal together and share the news of the past week. During the holidays we arrange a weekly outing or meal out together. My parents have never been critical of my parenting skills and accept my children’s habits and quirks. They have been extra supportive whenever my children have been going through a difficult patch –and never criticise my children. As a result they are dearly loved by us all and all of our lives have been enriched by the relationship.

Grandparents can be a huge asset to our children’s lives. And it is so worth the effort to help bridge the gap and help our children develop close relationships with them. With a few preparations beforehand –with both our children and our parents –the bond can be reinforced and everyone benefits.