Turns out, forging a special connection with your grandchildren really isn't that complicated, says Bernie Siegel, M.D., the grandfather of eight kids ages 5-12, and the
best-selling author of Love, Medicine and Miracles and Love, Magic and Mudpies, a new book that guides readers through the ups and downs of parenting.
Dr. Siegel believes there's a key reason we refer to our kids as our children, their children as "grand" and their children as "great grand." "The reason these words change is that we mature and learn about how to be true parents and love unconditionally, the more experience we get," says Siegel.
Beyond unconditional love, there are other key things a grandparent can do to build a strong foundation with a grandchild. Here, nine tips on how to build a relationship that's as deep as you want it to be:
Whatever you do, don't share something your grandchild has told you with anyone else, including the child's parents -- unless that confidence will compromise your grandchild's safety or health --, Siegel says.
When you bestow love and attention upon a grandchild, you're basically offering her someone beyond her parents she can turn to. "You'll become her advocate if need be, which is crucial to her development," says Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist and author of Little Things Mean a Lot: Creating Happy Memories With Your Grandchildren. "In short, a grandparent's love adds an extra dimension of security for a child in a world that is spinning faster and faster."
Each one of your grandchildren is an individual. Some are ace tennis players; others excel at calculus. Love each for their stellar skills and do whatever you can to avoid comparing one to the other. By being supportive, you'll boost self-esteem. For example: "Your cousin Nancy is doing so well in Spanish." Bad. "Want me to help you study your Spanish verbs?" Better. "You'll get the hang of Spanish in no time. When you're done studying, let's check out a Spanish-language film together." Best.
Being alone with a grandparent gives the grandchild a chance to shine and, frankly, show off. "In building a bond and rapport that is at turn fun, funny, and loving, you'll create a bond unlike any
other in feeling and closeness," Newman says. "It's one that teenagers and adults recall warmly for a lifetime."
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