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Tips for New Grandparents

Take your role as a Grandparent 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.

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-like 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.

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.

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.

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Boomers Resource Guide is a special supplement to the Senior Citizen's Guide