11 November 2013 08:00 AM

Grandparents Raising Kids

by rbavaria

I’ve seen lots of social, cultural, and educational trends during a long career working with kids and their families, but few are as obvious as the increasing number of children being raised by grandparents.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau seven million live in households headed by grandparents.  That’s a lot of kids. 

I’ve worked with many of them.  Here’s what I’ve noticed.  These kids are every bit as eager to make their grandparents proud of them as kids in traditional households.  These kids have the same basic needs, the same aspirations, the same desire for guidance. 

Here’s what else I’ve noticed.  Grandparents are eager for a little help, a little nurturing, and a little support.  “What do I start with?”  “It’s been so long since I was in school, how can I help with homework?”  “Am I out of my league?”  “Can I do this?” 

No need to get into the reasons for grandparents raising kids.  Each family is unique, with its own dynamics, strengths, and needs.  But if grandparents want a little encouragement, a couple of tips from someone who’s worked with lots of them, here’s my two cents’ worth about the considerable gifts older folks can give to young folks.

  1. Safety.  Kids’ most important need.  If we want them to succeed in school, to have confidence in the classroom and the neighborhood, they must first feel safe.  The grand moms and granddads I’ve known are experts in helping kids feel safe in a sometimes topsy-turvy world.  Your mere presence says, “You’re safe with me.” 
  2. Love.  Grandparents’ specialty!  Kids need to know they’re loved, cared for, and part of a larger group.  Safety and love – with these two basic needs, you’re already on the right track, and they’re ready to make you proud.
  3. Routine.  This is one of my favorite topics.  Routines let kids know what’s coming next and what we expect of them.  And because healthy routines help kids with their school work, they’ll soon see results.  Those results will lead to confidence.  A virtuous circle.
  4. Organization.  Grandparents have a thing or two to share about organizing their lives.  Even if it’s been a long time since they’ve had to maintain notebooks and assignment schedules, they’re still experts at navigating daily life and its expectations.  Showing kids how you organize your household – calendars, written reminders, planners – translates easily to school organization.
  5. Communication.  Vital.  Talking with kids at the end of every school day, asking what went on in English class and the lunch room, listening to the daily stories about friends and teachers, keeping up with progress on the science fair project – these are ways to show you’re interested and not to be diverted.
  6. Responsibility.  You’ve been responsible for years.  Recognize that.  Know that you’re a fine role model for your grandkids.  Show them how you’ve lived up to expectations, sometimes with difficult challenges, sometimes with failure, but always with determination.  What a great life lesson!
  7. Expectations.  Who better than grandparents to set high expectations for kids?  Don’t worry if you don’t understand the homework, or if it’s been a long, long time since you’ve even thought about photosynthesis.  When in doubt, insist on neatness – if it’s not neat enough for you, it’s not neat enough for Ms. Greenleaf.  Ask kids to “explain” their answers, essays, and projects.  They’ll strengthen their understanding, and you’ll learn, too.
  8. Wisdom.  You’ve got tons of this.  You’ve fought for it, earned it, learned it, embraced it, and now you can share it.  For example, show the grandkids the wisdom of learning from mistakes, of persistence, of doing their best, and of lifelong learning.  Just like you’re doing.
  9. Compassion.  A little silver in the hair generally is a sign that we’ve been around long enough to gain compassion for others.  When grandkids see you quick to praise and slow to anger, they’re learning a very important life lesson.
  10. Family.  You’re their link to their past and their present.  Give them the gift of family ties, family lore, family history, and family belonging.  All kids want to feel part of a larger group.  You can give them membership to the best group of all – family.


Grandparents have lifetimes of learning to share with their grandkids.  I remind my students’ grandparents of the wisdom, experience, and love they have to share.  Yes, if you’re a custodial grandparent, it’s a big job you’ve taken on.  Yes, you’re concerned about energy and stamina and relevance.  But, my goodness, what great gifts you’re blessing your grandkids with.  Recognize those gifts, take pride in them, and watch your grandkids grow.

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