by Dr. Ken Canfield

I was fortunate to have regular access to my paternal grandparents, and I learned a lot from each of them. I remember helping my grandmother roll out dough to make egg noodles for her incredible chicken and noodles dish. It was a big task because often 14 or 15 people would gather for dinner. I watched her artfully work the flour into dough, roll it out on waxed paper, and then cut those noodles. She let me help, but I’m not sure I ever learned noodle making well enough to do it by myself. She had a certain way she liked the noodles cut, then we’d put them in a big kettle and dump in the chicken and all the fixings to make a meal that all were eager to devour.

My grandfather regularly had me help him overhaul or rebuild cars—several of which I crashed. He showed me how to pull an engine, and I learned from his experience how to access hidden bolts, how to tap a screw that had been broken off, and simple maintenance tips to help prevent ongoing repairs. He often bruised his knuckles in the process and let out some choice words, but those times are fond memories for me. Also, I often used what he taught me on the cars our family has driven through the years.

I hope all grandparents embrace their role as teachers for their grandchildren.

So many people I’ve talked to have told me they learned something from a grandparent that helped to shape the direction of their lives.

What should you teach your grandkids? Maybe start by thinking about your own interests and passions, skills and abilities, disciplines and values. Maybe add some things that are unique about you or your family that you want to pass on to future generations, skills that would help your grandkids when they’re on their own, and practices that will help them live healthy lives. Then, often it comes down to the opportunities that present themselves when you’re together.

Lately, with my oldest grandchild, I’ve been helping teach him how to drive. His dad and mom have been his main driving instructors, but quite often when my wife and I are in town we’ll have a rental car, and so each visit becomes a great opportunity for my grandson to get behind the wheel of different kids of cars. One time we visit it will be a compact car, and the next maybe it will be a bigger sedan or an SUV. Those are valuable driving experiences for him.

The first time I handed him the keys, he got a nervous look on his face. “But what if I wreck it, Granddad?”

I just smiled and said, “I know you’ll do great. But if that happens, we’ll get to go through it together.”

In most cases we aren’t there to replace the parents, but we can complement their efforts and help to fill in the picture of what the grandchild is learning. That can be very beneficial. And sometimes kids are more interested in learning how to check the oil, parallel park, bake bread, or multiply fractions when Grandma or Grandpa is the teacher. That’s just part of the magic of being a grandparent.

What skills do you want to teach your grandchildren?

They may still be in diapers or they may be starting their sophomore year in high school, but it’s never too early or too late to be intentional about what you want to teach them.

Take some time and do some brainstorming to come up with those skills, disciplines, and values you’d like to impart. Maybe it’s basic money management, thankfulness, an appreciation for simplicity, gardening and lawn care, a love of learning, or any number of other topics. Or maybe, like me, you’ll pick up on something your grandkids’ parents are teaching them and reaffirm those lessons when the kids are with you.

What have you taught to a grandchild? Did the experience pull you closer to him or her? Please share what has worked for you at our Facebook page.

This was adapted from Dr. Ken Canfield’s book, The HEART of Grandparenting. Find out more and get your copy here.