Relating to granddaughters doesn’t come natural to many of us, but we can learn to connect in an affirming way. We mature males can relate well to girls, and it doesn’t require a huge adjustment in our approach. We have so much potential power to influence their self-esteem, their independence, and their healthy body image. Many experts are finding that our masculine approach is a big benefit with granddaughters.
Here are five key things that granddaughters need from their grandfathers:
As a girl matures, she comes to some significant crossroads. There are important life decisions ahead, and she needs the benefits of her grandfather’s life experiences and wisdom as she considers options and thinks through possible consequences of her choices. We might tend to think more about guiding our grandsons, and letting the women of the family have those important talks with our granddaughters. But girls need their grandfather’s perspective as well.
First, guiding means discerning what’s right in the midst of all the gray areas in our culture. Young women are under a lot of pressure to look, act, and be a certain way—to maintain a certain image. They also face expectations in regard to their future aspirations. Often, we granddads can bring an experienced, analytical approach to help clarify the picture and guide them along.
We also guide our granddaughters through teaching. That doesn’t mean you have permission to start lecturing your granddaughter. Especially when they are teenagers, kids rarely learn from a lecture. Instead, be actively involved in helping her learn—accompanying her and assisting her in her adventures and pursuits.
When it comes to our granddaughters’ self-image, we’re a huge influence—and it goes deeper than appearance. Girls feel pressure to be smart, thin, pretty, and involved in certain activities. We have the ability to make our granddaughters feel beautiful, inside and out.
First, we need to become comfortable affirming them verbally—giving thoughtful, clear, specific blessings that say, “You can do it,” or simply, “I love you.” That does include pointing out beautiful physical features, but it’s so much more. Compliment character qualities like emotional strength, a sense of humor, loyalty, intelligence and courage. Most of all make it clear that, even without those features, you’d still love her just as much.
Get involved in her pursuits. Show that she is worth investing your time and energy. Spend time just hanging out together, and be intentional about bringing fun and humor to her life.
Demonstrate confidence in her abilities. You might share something you’re working on and ask her opinion, or give her a challenging assignment and express trust that she can handle it. If your granddaughter knows that you think of her as a future achiever, that can change her whole outlook on the future.
Women are great at giving comfort, but our granddaughters need it from us as well. The ability to comfort can be a huge asset to our relationships with our granddaughters, especially after a disappointment. If you don’t have a warm relationship with your granddaughter, it isn’t easy to dive in and start comforting her. But you can start building a foundation for that acceptance and comfort by working on these three areas:
First, allow her to express her feelings. It may sound obvious, but too few girls feel open acceptance from the men in their lives. She needs freedom to express what she’s thinking, all the while knowing that you will respond calmly and not overreact, even when she has made a mistake. It’s so important to build the kind of relationship that encourages her to come to you with anything that’s on her heart.
Second, and closely related to the first, actively listen to her. Allowing her to express herself won’t make a difference if you don’t make the effort to draw her out, ask clarifying questions, clear your mind of preconceptions, read her voice inflections and body language, and keep listening for the heart of her concern.
And third, respond with empathy. It’s often a grandfather’s first reaction to try to fix the problem or launch into a story about something similar that happened to you. But what she really needs is empathy. Simply express sadness or concern for what she is going through. It lets her know you are there for her and it will better prepare you to take action, if needed, to help your granddaughter.
Vision has to do with the attitudes a grandfather conveys about who his granddaughter is and what she can become. If we’re negative or even uncertain about our granddaughters’ future, that can be devastating. For example, a grandfather might tell his granddaughter, “Don’t worry about doing well in geometry; it might be over your head.” It’s likely she’ll associate math with inadequacy—and maybe all her classes will suffer.
Or he might say, “Go easy on the sweets, Honey. You know boys don’t date overweight girls.” There’s a good chance she will prove him right. Or, she may become obsessed with proving him wrong and take any measures to be thin. Or, going a step further, she might throw herself at the first boy that shows her some positive attention.
Our granddaughters’ ability to achieve their potential depends in part on our resolve to appreciate them and cast a positive vision for their future. In practical terms, we can watch and take note of a granddaughter’s gifts and aspirations. Or just ask her, “What are your dreams?” Then be ready to listen and encourage her.
Grandfathers can also “speak destiny” to their granddaughters by making positive comments that are specific to them. We don’t want to place expectations on them, but cast a hopeful vision. You might say, “You have such a sensitive heart. I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up helping a lot of people in your lifetime.” It needs to be honest and from the heart. Just tell her that her future has great things in store. Write her short notes or e-mails where you affirm her and talk about your hopes for her life.
In many little ways, our granddaughters are asking us, “What am I good at, Grandpa? What do you see in me?” We need to be ready with words of hope and promise.
Granddad, you are a tremendous and vital resource in the life of your granddaughter. These needs are not limited by age, but manifest themselves in heart of a little girl and continue on throughout her adult life—even in her own marriage relationship.