What Does a New Grandparent Need to Know?

What Does a New Grandparent Need to Know?                       By Betty Miller

What does a new grandparent need to know?  Being called Grandma, Papa, Nana, Mema, or whatever is the name of choice in your family does not make you older.  It melts your heart.

When you start to lay the infant on his tummy and you hear the new parent gasp, it’s a clue that things have changed.  The safest position for a sleeping infant is on his back.  The American Academy of Pediatrics says that back sleeping is the preferred sleep position.  Is there a risk of choking when the baby sleeps on his back?  We were once told that babies might choke if they spit up or vomit while sleeping.  Because babies automatically swallow or cough up such fluid, doctors have found no increase in choking or other problems in babies sleeping on their backs.  Some babies have health problems that require different sleep positions.  Be sure you follow the recommendations of your grandchild’s doctor.

If your grandbaby is napping or sleeping over at your house, lay the baby on a firm mattress.  Babies should not be placed on soft mattresses, sofas, sofa cushions, water beds, sheepskins, or other soft surfaces.  Make sure all pillows, quilts, stuffed toys, and other soft items are removed from the sleep area.

Babies do need some “tummy time” when they are awake and someone is watching.  When your grandchild is awake, tummy time is good because it helps make her neck and shoulder muscles stronger.  It gets her ready to roll over, sit up, and crawl.

It may have been several years since your own children were young.  Thanks to new technologies, we know more about how a child’s brain develops and the importance of those early years.  When a baby is born, most of his brain cells, called neurons, have developed.  However, most of the pathways between neurons that control our thinking and our actions are formed during the first years of life as the result of a child’s experiences.  As a baby interacts with the world around him, his brain cells make millions of connections.  The brain keeps track of the experiences that happen regularly, and those pathways become stronger.

You, as a grandparent, can play an important part in helping your grandchild’s brain develop.  Promoting brain development doesn’t require lots of time or expensive toys.  What young children need most are positive experiences to help them learn more about the world.  Here are some easy ways you can help build your grandchild’s brain:

  • Make your home safe.  Make your home an interesting and safe place for her to explore, without confining her for long periods in a playpen.  Check your home carefully for anything that might endanger your grandchild.  Keep electrical outlets covered and breakable objects out of the child’s reach.  Lock up medicines and cleaning products. 
  • Provide enriching experiences.  New experiences help the brain make connections.  Remember that simple, everyday things are new to infants and toddlers.  Pots and pans make interesting sounds, and a simple trip to the grocery store or a stroll in the park can be an exciting learning opportunity.
  • Read and sing with your grandchild.  Start reading aloud when your grandchild is an infant.  Hearing you read helps your grandchild learn language, and snuggling together with a favorite book strengthens your relationship.  Singing and dancing together are great ways to have fun while also building your grandchild’s talking and listening skills.

Nutrition recommendations may have changed since you were a new parent.  During the first four to six months of age, nutritional needs are completely met by either breast milk or infant formula.  Only after four to six months should solid foods be added to the diet and then on a schedule recommended by the baby’s doctor.  The doctor may suggest starting with commercial baby rice cereal.  The cereal is made very thin by mixing it with breast milk or formula and spoon fed with a small spoon.  Never put cereal, or any other solid food, in the baby’s bottle; it can cause him to choke, doesn’t teach him how to use a spoon, and may promote overweight.  The baby’s digestive system is not developed enough to tolerate cow’s milk or goat’s milk until one year of age.  We grandparents need to play a supportive role to new parents, boosting their confidence rather than offering unsolicited advice.

If you are a long distance grandparent with access to e-mail, give the new parents a digital camera and consider it a gift to yourself.  Even a bad day becomes the best when you open your e-mail and find a new picture of the little one.  It is an easy way for busy parents to keep you abreast of the child’s growth and development.  There is no waiting for the entire roll of film to be used, taken to the store to be developed, copies made, a letter written, and a trip to the post office for the correct postage. Trust me on this one. And when your grandchildren are old enough to send the e-mail messages themselves you will be on the fast track for keeping the lines of communication open.  It is a great way to stay involved with your grandchildren even from a distance.  I think your “in town” grandchildren would also benefit from having another adult available 24/7 to be an “electronic” listening ear and provider of nonjudgmental emotional support.  You might be the coolest Grandma, Papa, Nana, or Mema around!


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