10 Things to Consider and/or Have on Hand Before Your Grandkids Visit

Disclaimer: I am not a grandparent—yet! But I have worked with new parents for 30 years, and they have confided in me about the joys and struggles they have with their kids’ grandparents. To help grandparents adapt to their new role in a way that is satisfying to everyone, here are some things to keep in mind, tailored, mostly, for those with grandchildren ages 2–5.

1. A Car Seat

This is one of the aspects of childcare that has changed the most in the last 30 years. It is now recommended to have children in a car seat or booster seat until they are about 9 years old, depending upon their weight and height. The law states that car seats should stay rear-facing until children are one year old, but it is safest for toddler and pre-schoolers to remain in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. (bcaa.com/community/child-car-seat-safety). Having a proper car seat will make your visit with your grandchild easier and more fun. So will knowing how to install and use it. There are so many beautiful places to explore and adventure on our beautiful Island!

2. A Yes-Zone

Grandparents’ houses are good places for children to learn how others live, and how to behave in a home that is not their own. It is a good idea to set boundaries about what kids can touch, where they put their shoes, and which rooms they can go into. But it will make your time together so much more pleasant if there is also a yes-zone: a part of your house or apartment where nothing is off-limits. Perhaps declutter your living room so that everyone can hang out together without anyone being worried about the kids getting at your priceless Ming vase or original Rembrandt. When the adults can relax, the kids have more fun, and you can all work on developing a real and meaningful relationship.

3. Outdoor Time

One of the best ways to deal with kids who are getting a little grumpy is to take them outdoors. But do a little reconnoitering before-hand. Find the best parks, beaches, and playgrounds near you. If you are living in the home where you brought up your kids, you may know some of those destinations. But some may have changed! And if you are living in a new place, you will need to start from scratch. Chat with some new parents in your neighbourhood to get their recommendations.

4. Bath Time

The other best way to cheer up a grumpy child is to put them in water. Of course, you might take them swimming, but that’s a lot of work—and during COVID, it’s a little scary. But a bath in the middle of the day, with exciting new bath toys, or just some yogurt containers, a little shampoo, and an old hand-cranked egg beater, can be really fun. Drops of food-colouring added to the bath add interest. Check out bath crayons. Kids can draw on the walls and then it all washes off.

5. Snacks

Check with your grandchildren’s parents about what foods they might not be allowed, or are allergic to. And then, within those boundaries, stock up on snacks. A grandparent who pulls out cookies or cherries or cucumber slices at just the right moment is a hero! Remember how your kids always had tantrums in the late afternoon? It’s usually because they are hungry, and we are making them wait for supper. Plan for some fresh fruit and veggies that the kids can nosh on while they wait for the evening meal. Then, when dinner is served, they’ve already eaten their vegetables!

6. Cooking and Baking

Cooking and baking with a grandparent is often one of kids’ best memories! Plan a simple baking project. Buy a little apron, perhaps a small rolling pin, some fun cookie cutters. Be aware that for preschoolers, cooking is a rich sensory process. They need to feel, grab, taste, smell, clutch, smear everything! It’s not going to be tidy, so relax and explore with your grandchild.

Smell the cinnamon, taste the sugar and the salt, and the baking powder (yuck!). Focus on the process, and don’t worry too much about the product. Enjoy!

7. Toys

You may be tempted to get a whole bunch of toys to amuse your grandchildren while they are visiting. Be careful! A few toys go a long way. And they make less mess. Building toys (blocks, Lego, Duplo) are versatile and fun for all ages. Puzzles are great, but make sure they are age-appropriate and not too frustrating. Think about toys that encourage interaction and playing together. It’s fun to pull out the toys your kids played with—if you still have some of those. Check them out first. Make sure they are clean, and complete, and that they meet current safety standards. A grandparent I know lays out a Brio track every night after the kids are in bed, and the kids come down in the morning to discover it. They are harsh critics: “Great track Grampa! But yesterday’s was better!” A grandmother I know bought a beautiful tea set for her grandson, because she had always wanted one as a child. They had lovely tea parties together, with the burnt cookies they had baked! Make sure you have a place to put all the toys away at the end of the day. A big toy bin will make clean-up easy.

8. Gardening

If you like gardening, and have a garden, think about how you can share that pleasure with your grandkids. Can you give them a little spot they can dig in? A few seeds to “plant?” A little apron, some tiny gardening gloves, a small trowel and bucket. Make sure the tools are real. Plastic tools are often disappointing. My children’s grandmother taught them a lot about the names of flowers and plants, and weeds, too. That’s a way of sharing a love of plants even if you don’t have a garden.

9. Outings

Grandparents have always been important in teaching children about their culture and heritage. Taking your grandchildren to museums, community festivals and events, concerts and movies is a great way to do that. Don’t expect too much of the kids’ attention span though. Be prepared with a lot of snacks and a really good attitude yourself! And be prepared to bail and go home if it just doesn’t seem like the right day for this outing. Try again next year!

10. Downtime

When your grandchildren come to visit, things can get intense. There may be too many people, too many family events, too many outings. Make sure there is a quiet time every day, when you and your grandchild can cuddle and read books or watch a movie. With any luck, that will turn into a nap! What a delight! If there have been several high-energy, event-filled days in a row, declare a hang-out day. Stay home. Wear pyjamas. Eat cereal. Make playdough (thebestideasforkids.com/playdough-recipe). Build a blanket fort. Those memories are golden!

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