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Relationships Between Toddlers and Grandparents

How To Develop Positive Grandparenting Skills

Rita Patterson, a 63-year-old grandmother of 11, has been writing poetry since she can remember.

"I wrote my first little poem in the first grade," she says. "My teacher and my mom and dad made me feel very good about it. They were so proud of me."

It is that pride that Patterson, of Kansas, has worked to instill in her own children's and grandchildren's accomplishments, no matter how small.

One way to do this has been to write poetry created just for them, she says. Each grandchild received a poem at an early age, detailing their special qualities.

"I have to let them develop their own personalities first," Patterson says. "Each one is different. Each one is special."

But Patterson, who has had poetry published in national anthologies more than a half-dozen times, does more than just write for her grandchildren. She writes with them.

Patterson, who co-owns and operates a dairy farm with her husband of 42 years, Dean, and her son Doug, spends many summer hours driving a tractor with her grandchildren aboard. So much so, in fact, that the Pattersons devised a special platform in the tractor cab on which even the youngest grandchildren perch while their grandma plows or disks or plants a field.

It is during those long tractor rides that Patterson teaches her grandchildren how to make up stories, songs and, of course, poetry.

"Tractor driving has never been boring to me," Patterson says. "I spend the long hours thinking about things. That's when I think about all the cute little things (my grandchildren) do. None of them are alike. That's how I find out what they are like – by spending so much time with them."

But not every grandparent has the luxury of time.

Long-Distance Grandparenting

Today, millions of American families are separated by distances that are too vast to make day-to-day grandparenting possible, adversely affecting the grandparent-grandchild relationship and making it difficult to pass on inter-generational wisdom through activities, such as sharing hobbies or crafts.

To combat this, long distance grandparents can use specific tactics to keep a strong attachment with grandchildren, says Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, a grandfather and the founder of the Foundation for Grandparenting, a nonprofit organization promoting education, research and networking toward positive grandparenting.

  • Use computers, faxes or traditional mail to keep in meaningful touch with a grandchild, Kornhaber says. One grandmother faxes her grandchildren a little note of encouragement several mornings a week. Or mail a note with a piece of chewing gum attached. Anything specifically addressed to the child will make them feel special.

  • Telephone contact is important too, Kornhaber adds. Call at a regular time when your grandchild is not rushed, a parent is not harried about getting a meal on the table and people have time to talk.

  • Videotapes and audiotapes. Cameras and tape recorders are excellent ways to establish contact with a grandchild. A toddler grandchild will treasure videotape or audiotape with a grandparent recording the family history, singing a song or telling a story.

Sharing Interests and Skills

For those grandparents who can spend one-on-one time sharing a hobby with toddler grandchildren, it is helpful to keep a well-stocked supply of craft items. One note of caution is to be sure to keep small items such as buttons and beads away from very young children.

For a craft box that will keep an energetic toddler entertained, start with the basics. Include items such as construction paper, crayons, drawing paper and a glue stick. Depending on the age and ability of the toddler, grandparents may want to include rounded-tip scissors designed especially for little hands.

These basics will allow children to draw, cut, paste and color. They can make pictures, paper chains, snowflakes, fans and greeting cards. Grandparents also can add coloring and activity books, which encourage side-by-side activity – the grandparent can color one page while the grandchild colors the other.

To bring some variety to the craft box, add stickers, used calendars and catalogues or greeting cards. One grandparent uses greeting card pictures to create an "ABC" book for each of her toddler grandchildren.

Leftover fabric scraps, yarn or string, as well as clean, dry egg cartons, single socks, cotton balls and small boxes can become treasures to the imaginative toddler. And, they do double-duty: not only do they encourage a toddler's creativity, but also reinforce a recycling habit.

A trip to the local discount store can bring the addition of wooden thread spools, pasta, colored feathers and foam or wood shapes. Pipe cleaners are perfect for bending, bundling, coiling and twisting into countless shapes.

With a craft box all set, the most important part is yet to come: sharing hobbies with a grandchild. It's also a good time to share bits of your past with toddlers. Tell them about the crafts you made as a child. Show them paper dolls or paper airplanes. Tell them about their great-grandparents. But most of all, simply enjoy the quiet pleasures of crafting together.

Experienced grandparents, like Patterson, have seen their early efforts pay off.

Many of Patterson's grandchildren, who range in age from 18 years to 18 months, have gone on to show an interest in and talent for writing. Patterson's oldest grandchild is entering college next fall with plans to become an English teacher. The next in line to enter college has her eye on becoming a literature professor and has already won awards for her writing.

On several occasions, the grandchildren have collaborated to write poetry as a gift for their grandmother, evidence of the time she spent sharing her hobby with them.

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