As a grandparent, it is only natural for you to shower your grandkids with affection. However, despite your best intentions, sometimes your concerning comments or playful jibes may end up hurting the child or having a negative effect on their delicate psyche. Thus, you have to be extremely careful with them without coming across as overly critical or patronizing.
“It’s a natural reaction to make comments that you always made to your children and that your parents made to you; they get embedded in the family culture,” says Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist, parenting expert, and best-selling author. Psychologists have been examining the fallout from negative comments on child development in recent years and the remarks from grandparents do play a prominent part in this.
To help you manage your relationship with your grandchildren better, we will look at some of the things you should always avoid saying to them.
1. “Great job!”
How could praise be a bad thing, you may wonder. However, child psychologists say that constant and unfaltering praise for every little thing isn’t exactly meaningful. When you keep repeating sentences like “You’ve done a great job” to your grandchild, they will eventually come across as empty and inconsequential. Empty praise, according to experts, is just like white noise to children and they will soon learn to tune these words out.
Instead of simply piling on the praise, you should make your grandchild feel that you’ve noticed their effort. For instance, if they have made a nice drawing, ask them how did they make it or how long did it take them to make it. You can even ask them about the colors they used and why they used them. This will make them feel encouraged and will promote the process of learning in them. Moreover, they will truly understand that they did a good job.
2. “You’re not a baby anymore.”
Children can cry often and it can become frustrating even for the most patient souls. If, as a grandparent, you are around your grandkids regularly and see them cry frequently, you might end up losing your patience. In times like these, you may end up saying something like “You’re not a baby anymore” or “Stop crying”. However, as frustrating as it may be, you must remember that crying is actually a healthy release and shouldn’t be suppressed.
Experts say that crying is good when we feel bad and is similar to how we sweat when we exercise. Thus, instead of asking your grandchild to simply stop crying, you should ask them what are they hurt about or what is it that they are afraid of. This could make the child explain the source of their tears and eventually they are likely to stop crying.
3. “You’re my favorite grandchild.”
You may feel this is a harmless comment you made to uplift your grandchild’s mood, but it’s something experts warn against. Even if you meant it as a joke or as a playful quip, you should be extremely careful. Kids talk to each other and they are likely to tell the other children in the family that they have been selected as the “favorite” by you. This may cause an unnecessary rift among your grandchildren and make them lose trust in you when you say you love them. The better thing to say would be: “You’re all number one with me!”
4. "Don't tell mommy and daddy."
You eat candy or ice cream with your grandchild at night. It’s a harmless activity that you enjoyed with the kid. However, you might still be feeling guilty about doing it and are wondering if the parents would disprove of this action. Thus, you end up saying to the child - "Don't tell mommy and daddy."
Child psychologists say that this is wrong and sets up a structure of secrecy. Moreover, it teaches the wrong lessons about honesty and open communication to children. Mental health counselors say that a better alternative to the sentence is “Let's ask or talk to mommy and daddy before we do”. The point is, you must avoid sending the message about obfuscating the truth to a child.
5. “He pulls your hair because he likes you.”
Little Emily comes up to you after returning from school and tells you that a boy from her class pulls her hair or teases her regularly. You might laugh it off and dismiss the action as a sign of affection. However, that shouldn’t be the case. If you make your grandchild accept the act then you are also accepting abuse as natural. Experts say it sends the message that this form of behavior is perfectly okay, even though the child is bothered by it.
If you do want to say that her classmate likes her, then also add that he shouldn’t be pulling her hair to show his affection. Make her understand that the classmate should have better ways to express his fondness like maybe playing a game with her or sharing lunch together.
6. “You’re being dramatic.”
When a grandkid is angry with you for some reason or is losing their cool at something else, you might end up saying "You're being dramatic,” or "There's no reason to act like that.” In your mind, they are overreacting or are being immature and hence you asking them to "calm down” is perfectly normal. However, mental health experts say that grandparents should understand that feelings are real. Hence, it’s important to make your grandkids be able to express themselves safely in front of you without being judged. If you undermine their feelings, they are likely to get hurt and hide their true emotions in the future.
Try saying, "It's OK to have feelings, I'm here for you," instead. This will make them know that you acknowledge their feelings and can also give them comfort if they feel stressed or anxious about something.
7. “If you were my child…"
You might think at times, for various reasons, that you are a better parent to your grandchild than the ones they have. However, you should never ever express this in front of the little kid. Swallow that impulse because not only could you end up hurting the parents but also negatively affect your grandchild.
"Grandparents can at times think they know more or better than their children when it comes to parenting," says Danielle Friedman, licensed mental health counselor with Free Space Counseling. She further states that communicating their displeasure with parenting in front of or to their grandchild might send a wrong message – that the child isn’t good enough. “They are not only criticizing their child's parenting techniques, they are also criticizing the outcome of those techniques… also known as the grandchild,” she says.
8. “Your sister is better than you at _____”
By saying that one of your grandchildren is better than the other at a particular thing, you may be trying to motivate them to work harder, but it sends across the incorrect message. The point is that children want their grandparents to be judgment-free cheerleaders. Thus, if your grandchild asks you if you think that his sibling is better at something, you should simply say, “Yes, he’s good, so let him play baseball while you can show me that new drawing you made.” If the child doesn’t ask for your opinion, then the best thing is to keep your thoughts to yourself in these matters.
9. “Are you sure you want to eat that?”
Your grandchild is having that extra spoonful of ice cream in front of you. You are concerned about her eating habits and end up saying “Are you sure you want to eat that?” Your critical comments about your grandchildren's food habits or body type can cling on to them for life. Many therapists say that such comments can, in fact, became a stimulus for chronic dieting and body shame later on in life. The grandparent might have had the best of intentions with those comments but they can have long-term effects. Apart from shaming the grandkid around food choices, what can be worse is if there are financial rewards for losing weight, according to mental health experts.
10. “Did you get good grades this year?”
It is only natural to be interested in your grandchild’s grades. However, if you keep asking them about their grades, you might be putting even more pressure on them as they are likely to be asked the same question by their parents and teachers. Moreover, if the child feels they have not lived up to your expectations, they could end up lying to you about their grades because they don’t want you to see them in a negative light.
If you are genuinely curious about your grandchild’s studies, you can ask them about their classes or favorite subjects instead. Once they know you are sincerely interested, they will open up to you about their school activities with much more ease.
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