The Healthy Geezer: How to Be a Good Grandparent

Question: We're about to have our first grandchild. I was wondering whether you are a grandfather and have any tips?

Answer: My wife, Gale, and I entered grandparenthood with a thud. We were given seven grandchildren in less than seven years. Let me give them all a plug. They are Morgan, 10, Carly, 8, Ethan, 7, Maggie, 7, Christian, 7, Aaron, 5, and Patrick, 4.

First, let me tell you what most grandparents know; you can't imagine how happy these little people will make you. And I think grandkids improve your mental health by keeping you positive and forward-looking.

I'll give you a column of what I think is the most helpful advice on this matter that I've collected from trusted sources.

Probably the single most important piece of advice I can share is this: Your grandchildren are not yours; they are your children's children. Sounds obvious. It's very easy to forget.

As a grandparent, you are in a supporting role. You have to provide emotional support to both your children and your grandchildren. And you have to do it without interfering. Unsolicited opinions are off the table.

So learn to bite your lip on those occasions when you want to suggest or, worse, criticize. Become a font of enthusiastic support for all concerned.

There will be times that your children will ask for parenting advice. Be constructive. Cite examples from your own experience with them. Always allow for alternate solutions. No one has all the answers when it comes to rearing children.

Act like a grandparent. The grandchildren have parents. They need someone who is more forgiving and fun. Be silly with them. Within reason, spoil them with treats, toys and permission to act like fools.

Tell them stories about when you were a child. Grandchildren especially love stories about when you misbehaved or acted stupidly. These tales make them feel better about their own failings.

The first time I went to a playground with a grandchild, I discovered that I was a thousand times more nervous than I was with my children. Safety became a major concern for me.

The following are safety tips. Some you will remember from the first time around, but they're worth repeating because you're starting over with toddlers.

  • Go to playgrounds that have forgiving surfaces to fall onto. Look for rubber matting, sand, wood chips or mulch. I feel so much more relaxed at these playgrounds.
  • Keep all medicines hidden.
  • Lock cabinets containing household chemicals.
  • Put safety plugs in your electrical outlets when the grandchildren visit.
  • Don't give grandchildren foods you haven't cleared with their parents. Peanut allergy is the most common cause of food-related death, so be especially vigilant about any foods that contain peanuts.
  • Post the number for the poison control centers in your home. The number is 1-800-222-1222. The centers are open 24/7.
  • Today's parents know that you place infants on their backs, not their stomachs. This newer way has cut down the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Use a firm, flat mattress and no soft bedding.
  • To prevent choking, don't allow small grandchildren to play with anything smaller than a tennis ball.
  • Avoid anything children can tie around their necks. Dress grandchildren in clothing without drawstrings. Keep window blind and curtain cords out of reach.
  • Children today ride in the back of cars in safety seats. Infants face rearward. Never let a child ride in front in or out of a safety seat. A child could be severely injured or killed by an air bag.
  • Never leave a child alone in a bathtub or on a changing table.
  • Buy safety gates for stairs.
  • Open sash windows from the top.
  • Helmets are a must for bikes and trikes.

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Fred Cicetti is a contributing writer for Live Science who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter, rewriteman and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey: The Newark News, Newark Star-Ledger and Morristown Record. He has written two published novels:" Saltwater Taffy—A Summer at the Jersey Shore," and "Local Angles—Big News in Small Towns."