While our communities slowly re-open, access to summer camps and childcare is still limited meaning many grandparents may find themselves providing care for their grandchildren. If you are a grandparent, you may already feel comfortable looking after your grandchildren, but if this is a new arrangement for your family, we have a few tips to help you navigate potentially tricky situations and to ensure that you and your children are on the same page when it comes to the care of your grandchildren.
To start, it is important to always develop a plan for the day with your grandchildren in partnership with your child and their spouse. Having an open dialogue with your child can prevent potential conflicts and make everyone feel more comfortable. It is important to listen not only to your child, but to be upfront and clear about your own boundaries as well. To help ease you into these conversations, here are a few topics we recommend discussing if you are going to be providing care for your grandchildren:
If you are watching your grandchildren in your own home or traveling to watch them in theirs, it is important to make sure the house rules are consistent. If you want there to be special exceptions so you can spoil your grandchildren at your house, talk these over ahead of time with their parents.
No matter the age of your grandchild, from infant through teenagers, routines and schedules can give structure to the day. For younger grandchildren, routines and schedules help them feel safe and secure by adding some predictability to their day. These routines may include nap times, snack times outside of meals or routines for before bed. For older grandchildren, schedules may evolve around enrichment activities or having limited blocks of time for certain activities. If your grandchildren have any routines or schedules, ask their parents to write them down for you to reference.
Food allergies and intolerances are becoming more and more common in children. Double checking to see what your grandchildren can and cannot eat can prevent an uncomfortable or potentially life-threatening reaction. Even if there are no food allergies or intolerances, parents may have preferences for the types of food their children eat. By following their preferences, your child will feel respected and secure in leaving their child in your care. If you do not have the foods in your house that they prefer their children to eat, you can ask them to be sent with meals and snacks or you can ask for a grocery list of items to buy, whatever works best for you.
There are many methods to disciplining a child and what a parent is comfortable enforcing may be different than what they want another family member or care giver doing. Ask how they manage misbehavior and what consequences are appropriate for different behaviors. By asking ahead of time, if your grandchildren misbehave, you can implement the same strategies their parents use and provide consistency for your grandchild.
Screen time can relate to television, computers, video games or tablets. The length of screen time allowed in a family may depend on the type of activity it is being used for. For example, if your grandchildren are reading an e-book on the tablet, their parents may allow for longer screen time than if they are playing a video game. If you want to limit screen time when they are in your care, this conversation is a great place to discuss new rules or structure.
Masking, especially when indoors, is important to reduce the spread of COVID-19. With new masking mandates in place, such as in Vermont, your grandchildren (ages two and older) may be required to wear a mask when in public. You can support them by wearing your own mask and speaking with them about the importance of protecting others.
When having these conversations, remember that child development and safety research has evolved and changed over the years. In fact, recommendations may be very different than you remember when raising your children. As long as you talk with your child about setting clear expectations and limits about how best to care for your grandchildren, you’ll be set up for success.
While our new and different routines and schedules can be cause for stress and anxiety, this time also presents new opportunities for families to reconnect and spend valuable time together. Open communication and expectation setting will create a solid foundation and will help you and your child get on the same page when caring for your grandchildren.
To learn more, sign up for our webinar series here for more great advice and guidance about providing care during COVID-19 and maintaining socially distant relationships.
Abby Beerman is an injury prevention coordinator at University of Vermont Medical Center and UVM Children’s Hospital.