As a grandparent of an energetic, challenging pre-schooler, it may seem like your grandchild’s birth is ancient history now. But “birth” is also a metaphor for a thousand other events that occur throughout childhood. A few years ago, your grandchild was born into the world, but now he is born into the world of speaking and toilet training and learning and relating.

Growth is rapid during these years. Your grandchild seems to have boundless energy and can’t get enough running, racing, wrestling, playing games, swinging, sliding, and on and on. Be prepared, because your grandchild will really test your stamina. He is active socially and needs lots of interaction with you, other adults and playmates his age. He will start learning and singing songs, and asking all kinds of curious questions. His imagination is now running wild with stories, pretend games and even imaginary friends. He will keep you on the verge of wonder.

You’ve probably been waiting for the chance to relate to your grandchild on more concrete terms. Now he can understand and use words rather than forcing you to interpret various sounds and gestures. You can say, “I love you” and be confident that your granddaughter knows what you mean. You can ask your grandson, “What do you want to do this afternoon?” and his answer will guide you toward something that will make him happy.

It’s a busy and important time for you and your grandchild, and there are key tasks and challenges for grandparents of preschoolers, including establishing ideals, forming a healthy pattern of involvement in your grandchild’s life, and demonstrating gentleness as a grandparent.

ESTABLISH IDEALS

As a grandparent of young children, you’re establishing priorities, deepening your commitment to the grandparenting role, and choosing your ideals. It probably took a year or two for the new feeling of being a grandparent to wear off. Now you have begun to grasp the many demands grandparenting puts on your time and energy, and you have a better idea what it’s going to take to be a good grandparent. Now is the time to decide: “It will be a challenge, but I’m going to place grandparenting among the highest priorities in my life.” It’s a great time to come up with your own personal grandparenting policy.

What does being a grandparent mean to you? You’ll feel expectations from the culture, colleagues at church, parents and in-laws. But more importantly, the other adults in your grandchildren’s life may have expectations of your grandparenting, and you need to listen to them carefully. You can learn a lot about parenting from them, and the only way to deal with their expectations is to bring them out in the open, discuss them, and make decisions for the benefit of your grandchildren.

If you verbalize your commitment as a grandparent, that makes you accountable to follow through on those stated intentions. Many grandparents never say what they intend to do, so they can’t get in trouble for not doing it. What’s more, whenever they do contribute as a grandparent, they act like they deserve some kind of award for making sacrifices above and beyond the call of duty. After all, anything looks great when you’ve committed yourself to nothing.

As responsible, courageous grandparents, we must proactively establish our ideals and then verbalize that commitment to our families.

DEMONSTRATE GENTLENESS

One day Mike was out in the back yard, cranking on his fourteen-year-old lawn mower. After so many years and so many repairs, the old beast just wouldn’t start, and Mike’s frustration mounted. After cranking and cranking for several more minutes, Mike accidentally brushed his hand against the pull cord, which was hot enough to burn him. That was the last straw! In his frustration, he took a step and gave the mower a swift kick.

As he stood there stewing in emotion, he sensed another presence nearby. He turned around and there was his three-year-old grandson, who had been pushing his little plastic mower near the house. What do you think he did? Sure enough, the boy reared back and kicked that little mower, just like his grandfather.

Emotional expressions are among the most important qualities a grandparent can model. Some adults are more comfortable than others at showing emotions, but all children need to learn how to handle their emotions in a healthy way. And grandparents, your grandchildren are going to learn largely by watching you and the other adults in their lives.

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The emotions you show every day determine whether your household will be a place of comfort and acceptance or one of uneasiness and foreboding. This is especially relevant when it comes to disciplining your grandchildren. Training children to be responsible people starts at birth and never really ends, though it changes drastically through the years. A nine-month-old will begin to challenge your authority, and a teenager may openly rebel against you from time to time. But during your grandchild’s pre-school years, you establish your approach to discipline and carry it out on a daily basis.

There are many approaches to discipline, and each grandparent should take cues from their grandchild’s primary caregiver, and adapt to fit their personality No matter what method you choose, the one factor that will make the most difference is your ability to be gentle with your child.

Discipline and anger, though often associated, belong in two separate realms. Relating to young children provides many opportunities for a grandparent to test himself against his anger and train himself to remain patient, gentle and self-controlled. Gentle grandparents can still correct their children-and punish them, when necessary. It’s just that the punishment probably won’t be as loud, and it’s much more likely that the consequences will fit the crime.

The patience that carried you through the first two years of being a grandparent is still a great virtue to practice and develop. In fact, patience is a big part of the gentleness that is required during these preschool years: patience for his seemingly boundless energy; patience for her endless curiosity; patience when you’re trying to teach manners; patience when it seems like you’re failing as a grandparent.

You exercise gentleness during temper tantrums; gentleness when he is trying to deal with new emotions; gentleness when she becomes selfish and possessive; gentleness as your youngster pushes against your boundaries; gentleness as he learns appropriate ways to use his developing vocabulary; gentleness as you praise good behavior; and gentleness when you exercise discipline.

There’s a peaceful feeling when a gentle grandparent walks into a room. A gentle grandparent has learned that a child responds to yelling and intimidation because she has to, but she responds to a calm, gentle grandparent because she wants to. Every child wants a grandparent who’s approachable and accepting, who listens to his child’s concerns and remains open to her ideas.

So be ready, grandparent. Realize that your family is going to occasionally put you on some emotional roller coasters. You’re going to be tested. Your grandchild may even say things that are designed to hurt you personally. That’s okay; stay calm. Don’t split a gut or go ballistic when you talk to your grandchild. And don’t wait until the heat of the moment-decide now to react calmly at your next opportunity.

Demonstrate a life of self-control and character. Be a gentle grandparent.

ACTION POINTS:

  • Set goals for your grandparenting that are measurable and realistic. Have someone hold you accountable for them.
  • Make reading together a regular activity with your grandchild.
  • Set boundaries for your grandchild when they spend time in your care: negative (limits and rules) and positive (guidelines and goals).
  • Initiate regular, healthy physical interaction with your child.