What if you could strengthen your bond with your grandchildren by focusing on a few simple skills?
Whether you’re a grandfather of many like me, a surrogate grandparent to one, or somewhere in between, the following common-sense skills will be a solid addition to your grandparenting experience. They are the three L’s of “grandparenting at its best”:
For decades I have been a proponent of the importance of active listening, whether we’re talking about marriage, parenting, work situations, grandparenting or just about anything else.
I first learned about the power of active listening from a grandmother in a nursing home. For thirteen years I watched over the affairs of an elderly widow named Rose, having been appointed her conservator in a court proceeding. Rose lived to be 103, and from age 90 till the day she passed, I got to know her very well. She was always delighted to see me and my family.
Rose had some incredibly fascinating stories to tell, having lived in three different centuries—from 1898 until 2002. She experienced the effects of World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the turbulent sixties, the Reagan revolution and a host of other historic events.
However, Rose would not opine as much on world events as she would about the renters of her properties, whom she served and treated as her extended family. She would tell me stories, with life lessons, about her best and worst renters over the years. Those stories, which she repeated again and again, contained many mundane details about each person or couple. And even though I could have recited them verbatim, she was always watching me closely as she talked to see if I was really listening. If she saw I was attentive, she would often throw in extra details, with life lessons I hadn’t heard. When I listened closely, her nuggets of wisdom would surface.
In order to draw her out more and hear the depth of her heart, I would sit in a chair facing her wheelchair and look intently into her eyes, nodding my approval. Looking back, I was doing my best to practice active listening skills: attentiveness, tuning out other distractions, eye contact, and sincere empathy. And I believe that encouraged Rose to open up, share profound insights, and pass on her wisdom, history and experiences. During those years I learned about the benefits of active listening, and I have applied them with my children and now my grandchildren.
Think about your grandchildren. How could active listening strengthen your relationships with them? In what specific ways can your attentive ears help them grow and mature?
A strategic way to enhance your grandparent/grandchild relationships is to use questions or short statements. These questions and statements are not an interrogation; they’re stepping stones to open up dialogues with your grandchildren and to get glimpses of their world. Thoughtful questions can also lead to deeper discussions about issues or concerns you may want to bring up with them.
Think about how young and growing grandchildren love to ask questions. Researchers remind us that between the ages of two and six, children will ask upwards of 40,000 questions. But as soon as they reach school age or begin formal learning, instead of asking questions, we ask them to sit down in their seat and “we will tell you everything you need to know.” That’s the sad state of how much of our formal educational process works, but it’s the way we have chosen to go. As a grandparent, you can enhance their learning and your relationship by asking questions that help your grandchildren dream. Here are a few questions you can ask your grandchildren to strengthen your bond.
- What do you like or dislike about school?
- Who are your best friends and why do you like them?
- Tell me, what makes you happy?
- What do you want to do when you grow up?
- Who is your favorite teacher or coach? What do you like about them?
- How can I help you reach your dreams and goals?
- What is a phrase that describes your life at home? (Assuming you are not your grandchild’s primary caretaker.)
- If I gave you a special gift of $50, how would you spend it? (They will really like this question.)
These questions and many others could be the doorway to help you grow in understanding your grandchildren and strengthening those relationships. (For more ideas, go to grandsmatter.org and search for the phrase, “Questions we should be asking our grandchildren.”) Without questions, you really can’t build an inquisitive, active mind. Of course, that doesn’t mean you don’t provide content or important facts when discussing issues with them. Rather, the questions you ask reveal your deep desire to really know your grandchild.