Grandparents as Grand Sitters


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When searching for the "perfect baby sitter," parents want to find a trustworthy guardian — someone who will provide their child gentle but firm guidance and solid protection. For many families, that means turning to the older generation. They've raised children of their own, after all; it's natural to assume they'd be excellent caregivers. But do grandparents really make good baby sitters?

Cristy Hoskins of Cary thinks so. Every Monday, Hoskins' in-laws, Harold and Terry Hoskins, of Apex, watch Cristy's two little boys in their home. It's an ideal situation for everyone.

"It gives me a much-needed break," says Hoskins, "and I couldn't ask for nicer people to be in our lives. We really do appreciate them."

The elder Hoskinses are thrilled to be so involved in their grandsons' lives. Together, they watch Thomas the Tank Engine videos, cook and eat meals, and color. They relish playing with the boys.

"It's the brightest day of our week," Harold says. "It's unbelievable. We get to see them all through the day and watch them play and grow. It gives us a lot of pleasure."

Studies have indicated that exposure to seniors is beneficial to preschoolers — increasing their social skills and creating a special bond between generations.

"It can be extremely good for the child," says Dr. Luci Bearon, the adult development and aging specialist for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension at NC State.

Children aren't the only ones who benefit from intergenerational relationships, says Bearon. The time shared is mutually beneficial to seniors and to young people. "It gives grandparents a chance to pass things on to another generation, and it gives the child the chance to find out where they fit in the scheme of things," she explains. "It gives the child a sense of family history, a different perspective on time, and a chance to understand older adults."

When grandparents offer child care, the child is exposed to a unique environment.

"Usually, the grandparent offers unconditional love, and they don't have to be the disciplinarians," Bearon says. This allows the child to flourish in a special environment of trust and love.

Chariss Jones of Raleigh understands this. She leaves her 1-year-old son with her mother-in-law during the day while Jones and her husband work out of the house.

"I love the personalized care," Jones says. "I know my child is getting enough attention and enough love during the day. Not only is my mother-in-law experienced, but she has a personal interest in being sure my son is very well cared for."

If your family is engaging grandparents as baby sitters, here are some points to consider:

• Don't make assumptions about grandparents' availability. "It really has to be by mutual agreement," Bearon notes. "You have to respect the lifestyle and rights of the grandparents." Don't show up at the last minute and expect to have instant baby sitters.

• Offer compensation. Open up a discussion about what you can offer.

"My mother-in-law didn't ask for anything," says Jones, "but I just didn't feel right about that. She's doing this full-time, and I want her to be able to reap some benefit."

• Pick up care costs. If a grandparent makes purchases for your child, that's his or her choice. But don't assume the grandparent will pick up the tab for dozens of diapers or a second set of baby equipment for their home.

• Be clear on your expectations. Keep an open dialogue about what all parties expect. Do you want a full report on the day? What do you expect grandparents to do if your child misbehaves? Any special food choices?

Grandparents often make ideal baby sitters for the children in their lives. And the bond between generations can become one of the strongest and most loving connections either generation ever experiences — making the time truly grand for everyone involved.

 

SAFETY CHECKLIST FOR GRANDPARENTS

 

Yes, they raised their own children, but grandparents aren't necessarily up on the latest child-safety advancements. After all, 30 years ago, kids didn't wear bike helmets or sit in car seats.

Before leaving the kids at Grandma and Grandpa's house, offer a quick run-down of the current top safety advice:

• Always wear helmets when on wheels. Even if they're enjoying a quick scooter ride around the cul-de-sac, kids need to wear properly-fitting helmets.

• Use the appropriate car seat or riding position. It's difficult to hear a baby squirming while you're driving, and sometimes a 7-year-old does seem too big for a booster seat, but the back seat the safest place for kids of all ages when they're traveling by car. And properly installed safety seats are required by law.

• Be sure smoke detectors work prior to sleepovers.

• Examine the window coverings at home. Loops should be cut and replaced with safety toggles.

• Have developmentally appropriate toys. Babies and toddlers need toys specifically for their age to prevent choking; items can be run through a test cylinder to see if they're suitable size.

• Be sure playgrounds have protective surfaces — spongy rubber, wood chips or sand — under the equipment.

• Check that gear meets safety requirements. If second-hand baby gear is used, be sure it's all up to today's safety regulations. Visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commision's Web site for additional information: www.cpsc.gov.

Kathleen Reilly is a freelance writer and mother who lives in Triangle.

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