As we mark National Grandparents’ Day, we honor the special bond that grandparents and their grandchildren can share. It’s one that’s mutually beneficial.
“The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is unique and influential,” says Rebecca Philpot, an Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioner who cares for residents at The Heritage, an independent and assisted living facility.
“Many studies report that children who have a positive relationship with their grandparents have better self-esteem, fewer behavioral issues, and better social skills with their peers,” Philpot says. “Likewise, grandparents who regularly interact with their grandchildren are generally healthier and suffer less depression.”
Benefits of Strong Relationships
A 2013 study by a pair of sociologists found that both grandparents and grandchildren stand to gain when they forge strong bonds.
“Grandparents experience benefits from interacting with grandchildren,” Philpot says. “These relationships generally increase brain health for grandparents, and keep them more physically active and socially engaged. This in turn increases the grandparents’ mental and physical health.”
Grandparents who spend time with grandkids may also have a healthier immune system. This is likely because they’re exposed to more germs via their interaction with grandchildren, which boosts their immune system activity. Many grandparents also say that being a grandparent encourages them to lead a healthier lifestyle so they’ll be a part of their grandchildren’s lives longer.
Another study of the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren showed that when people engage in activities out of choice rather than need, their approach, attitudes, and interactions are more positive. Kids tend to pick up on that positive vibe quickly.
The grandparent-grandchild relationship clearly offers many positives, but there might be some limits to that, Philpot says. For example, grandparents who are full-time caregivers don’t necessarily receive the same benefits.
“Grandparents who are primary caregivers for grandchildren are typically more challenged in their relationships with them,” Philpot says. “Ideally, one or two days a week of providing child care is the most grandparents should be responsible for. Beyond that, the benefits of grandchild/grandparent interactions can decrease.”
Engaging with the younger generation also helps grandparents keep familiar with emerging technology.
“Today’s teens, and even tweens, are obviously active on technology devices and social media platforms,” Philpot says.
Oftentimes, this is one of the easiest ways for grandparents to maintain a connection with their grandchildren. This requires grandparents to keep reasonably familiar with using cellphones, tablets, and computers, and skills such as texting or interacting on social media platforms.
“Those can be practical challenges for aging brains,” Philpot says. “Learning any new skill is beneficial for brain health.”
Conversely, grandparents can also teach skills to their grandkids. These can include cooking, sewing, knitting, crocheting, carpentry, mechanics, fishing, and hunting.
The group Generations United encourages families to “do something grand” around Grandparents’ Day to honor the special connection between grandkids and grandparents. The group recommends activities such as taking a walk in a local park, preparing a special meal using a favorite family recipe, or doing craft or other hobby projects.
“The benefits of the interplay of what one generation can teach another go both ways in the grandparent/grandchild relationship,” Philpot says. “The legacy that my grandparents instilled in my life is one that I carry with me every day in my practice. Unconditional love can flow both ways, and there’s no greater gift.”