Grandparents advise each other on navigating the pandemic
Study reveals four ways to connect with and help grandkids
It’s no secret that grandparents love being around their grandchildren, which is one reason why the COVID-19 pandemic is so hard on them.
But if there’s one thing that many older people have, it is the wisdom and accumulated knowledge that can only come with years of life experience, said James Bates, associate professor and extension specialist in family wellness at The Ohio State University.
Bates decided to tap that knowledge by conducting in-depth interviews with 21 grandparents, aged 58 to 77, to ask about their experiences during the pandemic. The interviews, which were 35 to 98 minutes long, took place in May and June 2020, early in the pandemic during “the toughest parts of the first wave of restrictions and shutdowns,” he said.
One of the questions Bates asked in the interviews was “Do you have any advice for other grandparents who are currently dealing with the coronavirus pandemic?”
Bates analyzed the answers from that question and the results were published in the December 2020 issue of The Journal of Extension.
“Some grandparents gave extensive and detailed advice. It seemed like they had been thinking about this a lot,” Bates said.
Bates identified four themes in the advice grandparents gave, which he boiled down to these guidelines:
1. Be present by focusing on the little things.
Most grandparents understood the need for restrictions that didn’t allow them to hug, kiss and touch their grandchildren. But they found other ways to show their affection, Bates said.
“Grandparents emphasized that it is the little things that make a difference: the little gift, the little remembrances, the little activities,” he said.
While video calls are fine, many grandparents said they used low-tech methods of communication, like letters, cards and telephone calls. “Just find these small ways to let your grandchildren know they are truly loved,” Bates said.
2. Don’t feel sorry for yourself.
“Many of those I interviewed warned against turning inward and feeling miserable,” he said.
Grandparents should reach out, share ideas with other grandparents and friends, and focus on family members and their needs. Those interviewed encouraged others to “strike a positive and courageous tone” even when they aren’t feeling upbeat, and work to avoid negative thinking.
3. Be an example for your grandkids.
Many of the study participants reported seeing their grandchildren struggling with schoolwork, missing their friends and being upset about being homebound.
“Grandparents advised being an example of strength, resiliency and hope in front of their grandchildren. Let them know the pandemic is tough on everyone, including parents and grandparents,” Bates said.
One of the most important ways to model good behavior is by following health guidelines, according to those interviewed.
Although none of the grandparents in the study reported any COVID-19 cases in their immediate family, they all felt it was important to follow stay-at-home orders and physical and social distancing guidelines, Bates said.
“They said grandparents should take care of themselves so that their grandkids will want to take care of their own health too,” he said.
4. Help your grandkids prepare for the future.
The final bit of advice is where grandparents’ life experiences really came into play, Bates said.
Many suggested grandparents discuss how they overcame difficult life experiences like the pandemic.
“Helping grandchildren acknowledge that there will be drama, tragedy and accidents in life will go a long way in helping them prepare emotionally and psychologically when things come up,” Bates said.
“Kids need to learn how to deal with frustrations and loss and challenges.”
Bates said his interviews underscored how important grandparents are in the lives of their families.
“Strong and supportive relationships with loving family members such as grandparents are essential to helping children get through the challenges of life,” he said.