Parents are right to insist that grandparents ask before giving a hug.
Marilyn hadn’t seen her granddaughter in six months. “I was so eager to scoop her up and plant kisses all over that chubby face!” she told me. “But as soon as I got there, my son told me I couldn’t hug her until she gave me permission. I was floored! Since when do grandmothers need the permission of a toddler to show them how much they love them?”
Welcome to another growing trend: body autonomy, also called bodily autonomy. Insisting that you ask for permission before hugging your grandchild may seem like another way for your grandchild’s parents to frustrate you, but they’ve got extremely good reasons for this request.
Body autonomy is the idea that each person has a right to decide what happens to their body without coercion or influence by anyone else. It’s important that children be taught to understand this concept from the earliest age. Why is body autonomy important for children? Because a child who feels in control of their body is less likely to become a victim of sexual abuse or sexual assault. They are less likely to become a victim of intimate partner violence later in life. And children who know they are in charge of their bodies are more likely to share any abuse or violation that may happen to them.
The sexual abuse of children is a difficult subject to talk about, and one we all hope (and assume) won’t happen to our loved ones. The reality is that it happens with alarming frequency. According to a 2014 study, one in every three females and one in every 20 males will experience unwanted sexual contact by the time they turn 18.* Sadly, the assailant is someone the child knows and trusts in the majority of cases. Teaching children about body autonomy is a powerful way to protect them.
While grandparents should be the greatest advocates for our children learning about bodily autonomy, we are instead among the greatest offenders. We swoop in for the hug, insist on the kiss, hold them tight when they try to squirm away. Whether we see them daily or once a year, we crave their affection and expect them to return the physical displays of our love for them. In doing so, we are teaching them that they must yield their bodies to other people’s requests.
We teach them in other ways, too, saying “Give your sister a hug to say you’re sorry” or “It’s okay, he just keeps poking you to get your attention.” In ways big and small, we are repeatedly telling them that they don’t have the ability or privilege to make choices about their own bodies.
Instead, we need to make sure our grandchildren get the message that their bodies are theirs to control, and that they can always decide how others touch it. They need to know that people who love them will always respect that, and that anyone who doesn’t is not a friend. They need to know we won’t ever force them to do something they don’t like or ask them to do something don’t feel comfortable doing. We need to make sure they understand that if anyone expects them to submit to unwanted physical contact, their entire family supports their right to say no.
Once Marilyn’s son explained the reasons behind his seemingly crazy request, she was happy to comply. “It all made sense once he educated me!” And while her granddaughter did not want hugs for the first two days of her visit, by the third day she was running to Marilyn for affection all day long. “It was hard to wait for her to warm up to me, but if it will keep her safe as she grows up, I’m so glad I did.”
*Finkelhor, D., Shattuck, A., Turner, H. A., & Hamby, S. L. (2014). The lifetime prevalence of child sexual abuse and sexual assault assessed in late adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 55(3), 329-333.
More in our “What Grandparents Need to Know” series:
Skin-to-Skin Contact After Birth
What's Baby-led Weaning?
Books with grandmothers that your grandchildren will love
As an Amazon affiliate, I may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no additional cost to you. Thank you for helping to keep this site ad-free.
Is there any doubt that grandmothers are important? Not according to research, and not according to the authors of these eight picture books about grandmothers. We are constantly on the lookout for stories that feature grandmothers, and these are our current favorites.
Each of these books features a grandmother with a special relationship with her grandchild. Which one will you get to celebrate your relationship with your grandchild? (Click any title or photo to shop on Amazon!)
I Really Want to See You, Grandma
by Taro Gomi
Originally published in Japan, this delightful story tells the tale of Yumi and her grandmother’s frustrating attempts to visit one another. Its simple words and expressive pictures will appeal to the youngest grandchildren.
When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree
by Jamie L. B. Deenihan
This was a favorite of the grands, especially the six year-old. The grandmother in this book plays a small but key role in the story. The humor and colorful pictures share more than one important message, all wrapped up in an engaging plot.
Nana in the City
by Lauren Castillo
A Caldecott Honor book, Castillo’s wonderful images fill a book about perspective and the influence a grandparent can have on a child’s experience. Nana’s love for her grandson and his love for her come shining through the simple story.
by Arthur Dorros
The colorful, intricate illustrations take the reader on a magical trip through New York City with Rosalba and her abuela. With lots of Spanish words, a focus on family and references to immigration, this book can be a springboard for meaningful conversations with children.
Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt De La Pena
The relationship between CJ and his nana is an integral part of this award-winning story, and their bus trip across town is long enough to show how important Nana is to molding CJ’s experience of the world. The lyrical text is fun to read out loud to your grands.
The Hello, Goodbye Window
by Norton Juster
Nanna and Poppy's Window is the lens through which we see a delightful relationship between grandparent and grandchild. It stands up to repeated readings--even three in a row! Each time we read it, we have a different conversation inspired by the book.
How to Babysit a Grandma
by Jean Reagan
Perfect for reading with Grandma! Babysitting a grandma requires doing all the things she loves to do with her grandchildren. The silly premise and playful illustrations will make your grandchildren giggle.
A Grandma’s Magic
by Charlotte Offsay
This one is a perfect gift for grandmothers. The story is lovely: the sentiment is sweet without being cloying and the words flow beautifully for reading aloud. The charming illustrations by Asa Gilland depict modern grandmothers of all sorts.
Looking for books about grandfathers? You can see some of our picks here!
Understanding why communication styles are important will strengthen your relationships.
Not too long ago, I wrote about a text message that a mother-to-be had sent to her family and friends.
“Hi everyone! Just wanted to let you know a couple of things we’ve decided about the first couple weeks after we bring home the baby. We want to have some time alone to bond with him, so we’ll let you know when we are ready for visitors. When that time comes, we ask that you be tested for Covid before visiting, and wash your hands before holding the baby. Also, no kissing him! Thanks for understanding.”
Her mother-in-law, a first-time grandmother, was upset by the message, but also by the way it was communicated. To her, a group text was inappropriate and insulting: She felt her daughter-in-law should have initiated a one-on-one conversation. This difference in communication styles added to the tension of the situation. Sadly, it’s probably not the last time there will be miscommunication in this family!
Miscommunication happens when a message doesn’t get through to the person you are speaking to. Sometimes that’s because the message is hard to understand or isn’t shared in the right place or time. But often, it’s simply a case of communication styles that don’t match. Communication styles can vary across culture, generation, and personality. When your communication styles don't match, it can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings and arguments. Learning about the communication styles of your grandchild’s parents is an important step in preventing family rifts.
Start by defining your own communication style. Do you like to get straight to the point? Do you try to avoid confrontation? I liked the quick communication styles assessment available at PersonalityLingo.com. Sometimes, just reading about different communication styles can make you understand your loved ones better. Even better, invite your family members to take the quiz and then talk about your results.
Even if your family members don’t want to take a quiz, you can learn a lot about their communication style with thoughtful observation. Are they more likely to text than call? Do they shut down in large groups of people? Do they move around while they are talking? Are they direct in what they say, or do they frequently apologize for things beyond their control? Are they visibly annoyed when someone interrupts them? Do they always try to keep the peace?
Differing communication styles within families can be a source of strength for the family as a whole. Be mindful of the fact that every communication style has plusses and minuses; it will help your relationships if you focus on the positive. If your daughter-in-law is very direct in communicating what she needs, like the woman above, be glad you don’t need to try to read her mind (even if you don’t like the message!).
Another important thing to consider when you need to get a message across is timing. If it feels vital to tell them something, make sure they are able to be receptive. If you have something big to say, let them know you want to find a time to discuss it, and ask when they would like to set that time. Over a meal is good, neutral place. For day-to-day communication, pay attention to when they seem most open to conversation. Naptime might seem like a good time to you, but it may be the only time your daughter gets to concentrate on her own priorities.
It never hurts to ask someone when and how they’d like to stay in touch, but it can also work to just pay attention. When I called one of my daughters while she was in college, I was invariably talking to an abrupt child who was clearly annoyed to have to talk to her mother. However, she’d often call and happily chat with me while walking to class. It didn’t take long for me to learn to just wait for her calls.
Do differences in communication styles affect your family’s relationships? Let us know in the comments!
Today's post was written by Emily Morgan, host of the The Grand Life: Wholehearted Grandparenting podcast.
It’s 1952 and my grandparents are descending the church steps together. My grandfather is holding a hat in his left hand, and my grandmother’s purse hangs from her forearm like she’s Queen Elizabeth. I’m sitting watching some 8mm film taken back in the 1950s of my extended family, including my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my parents and older sister when she was just a baby.
The film, now a video, shows on our widescreen TV. No darkened room, no clackety projector. My husband and I watch with my middle sister and her husband, naming people whose faded Ektachrome images flit silently by. More than just congregants to my grandparents, they were dear friends and members of a greater community where they all lived. We only know them because we visited that church every time we traveled to see my grandparents. I wonder how many of you have had the same experience? Surely I’m not the only one with grandparents steeped in faith from a young age, and who in their old age made it no secret that they prayed for decades that all of us would follow in their footsteps.
Have their prayers been answered? How many of their progeny are walking out of a church building every Sunday like they did?
I would venture to say that many of us seldom do. And even if we do worship regularly, how different does that place look compared to the one we visited or attended in the 1950’s? Each generation’s faith mutates. And in some households, it completely disappears.
For some – even now -- religion is far more than just a practice. It’s an identity. But according to recent Gallup Poll numbers, “Americans' membership in houses of worship have continued to decline, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup's eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.” You may be one of those faithful 47 percent. But your children and grandchildren may not. So how do you reconcile that when family comes to visit or when a shared holiday coincides with a visit to a place of worship?
After speaking to many grandparents in different religious traditions, I can say that all of them want their children and grandchildren to take away from their own upbringing a faith that looks similar to the one they passed down to them. They desire this for many reasons: tradition, commonality, belief in a shared afterlife, and a strong conviction that the structure and truth of a shared faith bonds a family together like nothing else can.
Parents whose adult children eschew those reasons lament that choice. As grandparents, we may have an urge to leapfrog over our “spiritual but not religious” adult children in order to influence our impressionable grandchildren. But what is borne out of love and concern can often morph into conflict and estrangement.
So what is the answer? Witholding judgment, try speaking to your adult children before you openly share your beliefs with your grands. There is certainly nothing wrong with inviting your grands to say a prayer before dinner or bedtime when they are in your own home, but to insist on that when you’re visiting another’s home is another matter. And if your family comes to visit during a religious holiday or even on a regular weekend, it would be best to ask your adult children if they’d like to attend worship with you. Be willing to accept a “no” if they decline. There is nothing stopping you from attending yourself, but you should do everything to be loving and kind in your response to your adult children’s requests not to attend. That is where the outpouring of your faith becomes the genuine love that you profess to believe. While the saying “actions speak louder than words” is not a sacred or biblical proverb, it really could be.
The Grand Life Podcast: Wholehearted Grandparenting is hosted by Emily Morgan, author of this essay. If you are interested in more reflection specifically about grandparents and faith traditions, listen here for the first of a three-part series about this topic.
© 2022 Emily Morgan
Emily Morgan hosts The Grand Life: Wholehearted Grandparenting podcast and is in her third year of creating over 80 episodes consisting of stories, interviews and essays about grandparenting. Her The Stretch It Takes essays have become a favorite for her listeners, exploring how to stay flexible in relationship with adult children and grandchildren alike. She and her husband Mike enjoy their 10 grandchildren who reside with their respective parents in IN, CO, and VA and who range in age from six months to 10 years old.
Today’s blog post is written by one of DeeDee’s oldest friends, Mimi Sherry.
As this grandparenting journey continues, I am always seeking ways to be intentional with my family. A few years ago, I began giving experience-type gifts to my children's families. A typical gift has been a yearly membership to their local zoo or a museum the whole family might enjoy. When my husband and I visited, we could go along and get to see them enjoy the gift. I usually asked for suggestions since I didn't live in their areas.
This year, my husband and I live near some of our grandchildren. As we were thinking about Christmas gifts, I came up with the idea of giving my three oldest grands, who are siblings and range in age from 10 to 6, an Adventure Box. My husband and I came up with about 7-10 ideas for day trips in our area. Some of the outings were trips to a few local parks with playgrounds, a military museum, and indoor playground, a trip to the movie theater, and an air and space museum. My husband is a veteran, and we wanted to share that aspect of our lives with them. We also included some fun restaurants and dessert shops.
We wrote them on strips of card stock and placed them in a little tin box. The plan is that once a month, one of the children will draw an adventure from the box, and we will plan the outing. We tried to keep the ideas simple ones that would take about half of the day including lunch. Our goal is to get to share these days with them and build memories together. We didn't want them to be costly or too elaborate, especially since we aren't able to include all our grands in these trips; two are too young, and two live in another state. These grands are homeschooled, so Fridays are usually good days to plan an adventure.
It has been harder to coordinate our schedules than I anticipated, but it's worth the time. An added benefit is that our daughter gets a few hours of free time on these adventure days! It’s always fun to get to help your adult child too.
We ate lunch at McDonald's on our first outing, which started us off with many laughs. We headed to the 45th Infantry Museum here in Oklahoma City and made quick progress through the exhibits. As we looked at the static exhibits outside, we noticed a driving range across the fence, and many golf balls were discovered on the ground. The kids started having a golf ball hunt, and we all enjoyed filling our pockets with balls. Their mom could decide if the balls would be kept (or not).
We stopped for a cookie and then a short stop at the local university where my husband and I met. The kids wanted to hear how and where we met and how Papa John proposed. It was fun sharing this part of their family history with them. The day wasn't all planned. We went with the flow as the adventure progressed. Some of the most fun was in the moments that weren't in the original plan. I think the point is to be flexible and know that the plan for the day is just a starting point. The kids probably enjoyed the spontaneous moments the most. We sang and danced in McDonald's, sat out in the sun eating our cookies and relived our courtship story for them.
Whether you live near your grandchildren and can go on these adventures with them or live in another area, you can make this idea fit your situation.
Mimi Sherry and Papa John live in Edmond, Oklahoma and love getting to spend time with their seven grands. We hope this fun idea might be helpful to you as you invest in your family.
What if there were an app that let you spend true quality time with your grandchildren who live far away? A way to engage during video calls with grandchildren that you enjoyed as much as they did, that let you watch them learn and play, and allowed you to deepen your long-distance relationship with your grandchildren? Would you believe me if I told you there is?
I’ve tried a lot of apps designed to connect long distance grandparents with their grandchildren. If you look, however, you won’t see much about them on this blog. That’s because the apps with long distance activities for grandparents and grandchildren that I’ve tested have fallen short for me, and I won’t recommend something that isn’t going to add value to video chats with the grandkids.
Recently, I was invited to test out Kinoo, a new twist on games during video calls with grandchildren ages 3-7. Their website promises that “Kinoo takes video chat to the next level with engaging activities designed for grandparents and grandkids.” I agreed to try it, and they kindly sent my grandchildren a Kinoo Controller wand (more about that in a minute) so we could take advantage of all the activities that are offered.
Kinoo’s Technology is Seamless
The wand arrived just a day before the other grandparents did, so it took a couple of weeks before we had a chance to try it out. I wasn’t in a big hurry, because I expected an experience much like the other ones I’ve had: the kids get frustrated by the technology and I get bored by the activities.
I was wrong about the technology. The set-up was simple and streamlined. The look of the platform is cheerful and friendly, and the characters that guide you through activities are cute without being annoying. It’s easy to navigate for both grandparent and grandchild. Kinoo worked flawlessly from start to finish each time we played. (To download the Kinoo app, you need a US-based Apple App Store account. Use of Kinoo requires an iPhone or iPad, 2017 or newer, running iOS 13 or later.)
Kinoo’s Activities: Video Chat Games for Grandkids That You’ll Enjoy
I was wrong about the activities, too. They were fun! Some are versions of well-known games, like matching and memory games. Most have different levels of difficulty and layers of depth. For example, I played a sock matching game with my four-year-old granddaughter. After taking turns to successfully match all the colorful pairs of socks, two laundry baskets appeared and we had to sort them into stripes and dots. It extended the fun—and the learning. Other activities, like a trip to the moon, are developed just for the app by Kinoo's team of experts in social-emotional learning.
Throughout the games, you can see your grandchild’s face well (even on my tiny iPhone Mini screen!). The best part of the sock matching game was seeing her lean back, smile and say “Your turn!” each time she put two socks together. Was it as good as being there? Of course not. Was it almost as good? Yes.
The games we’ve played have all been collaborative rather than competitive, something else Kinoo gets right. Working towards a common goal is a powerful relationship builder, even if that goal is just matching animated snowmen or making a digital pizza. Pops and the grandson decorated a cake together, and they made each other laugh as they tried to one-up each other with lavish and outlandish additions to the cake. “I had a lot of fun playing,” Pops reported. Jim Marggraff, founder of Kinoo, told me that this is one of the things they are finding: Kinoo is drawing grandfathers into new relationships.
So, What’s the Kinoo Controller Wand?
The Kinoo Controller wand is a clever addition to the video chat experience. Depending on the game, it can be a fishing pole, a chisel for sculpting, or a spoon for stirring cookie dough. It adds a physical dimension to the games, which helps young children stay engaged—and uses some motor skills, too! While it’s possible to play most of the games without it right now, it definitely raises the fun factor and I recommend making the investment (read on for a discount for my readers!).
It’s important to know how to keep your grandbaby safe from foods that can cause harm.
Food. It’s the cause of many a disagreement between parents and grandparents. And it’s not just about Grandma sneaking a cookie to Junior before dinner! Dietary choices, feeding methods, food allergies and sensitivities, mealtime philosophies—there are so many issues that grandparents need to recognize.
Breast vs. bottle, baby-led weaning vs. starting with purees or vegan vs. omnivore: Today’s parents usually have strong feelings about how their baby is fed. Grandparents don’t always agree with their methods, but no matter what you think is right, it’s vital that you support your adult child’s decisions.
Unless your grandchild is showing signs of malnutrition, your role as a grandparent doesn’t extend to making decisions about how or when a child is fed. Make sure you know and respect the parents’ wishes about how their child is nourished. If you question what they are doing, learn about their chosen method so you can understand their reasoning.
Grandparents also need to be aware that food can be a safety issue. It’s important to know how to keep your grandbaby safe from foods that can cause harm. We’ve put together some food and feeding safety tips for you as a starting point, but you should always check in with parents to find out what's important to them.
The following food can cause serious illness in babies and should be avoided for the first year of a child’s life:
Honey: can cause botulism, a serious form of food poisoning. Avoid all foods containing honey, including yogurt, cereals and crackers, such as honey graham crackers.
Unpasteurized drinks or foods such as juices, milks (raw milk), yogurt, or cheeses may put babies at risk for E. coli, which can cause severe and life-threatening diarrhea.
Cow’s milk may put a baby at risk for intestinal bleeding. An infant’s kidneys cannot handle the proteins and minerals in fortified milk.
Juice is not recommended for babies under 12 months, as its high sugar content is of little nutritional value.
To help reduce allergies, solid food shouldn’t be introduced until six months of age. While we were usually instructed to introduce foods in a certain order, that’s no longer seen as important for most children.
Once a baby begins eating solid foods, it’s vital to be aware of the foods that are common choking hazards. This list includes:
These, and any other food that could block their airway, could cause choking. It’s a good idea to take a course on what to do if a child is choking, like the one offered here.
The way you feed your grandbaby is as important as what you feed him or her. It’s important to make sure food is cooked and prepared for your grandchild’s developmental stage. They should be sitting upright while eating, not crawling, reclining, or walking. Supervise your grandchildren closely while they are eating, and avoid giving them food in the car or stroller where you can’t see them at all times.
Being a prepared grandparent is the best gift you can give your grandchildren. While no amount of preparation can prevent all emergencies, knowing what the risks are is an important first step.
Want to join the club of truly prepared grandparents? New Grandparent Essentials contains more ways to prepare, including a guide to talking with parents about how you can support their feeding choices.
As an Amazon affiliate, I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links at no additional cost to you. Thank you for helping to keep this site ad-free.
“All along, I had been grandparenting solely by instinct and habit when what I really needed to do was to grandparent consciously, deliberately, and by design.” Jerry Witkovsky, The Grandest Love
Author Jerry Witkovsky was not alone in approaching his role as grandparent from instinct and habit. Most grandparents do the same, assuming that love and enthusiasm are enough. In The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection, Witkovsky makes the case for another way of grandparenting: consciously, deliberately and by design. This more intentional approach is the key to creating relationships that will sustain and enrich the lives of the entire family.
Witkovsky was a social-work professional long before he became a grandparent. His professional experience convinced him that the grandparent-grandchild relationship has the power to strengthen families and communities. In The Grandest Love, he shares the results of over 25 years of studying grandparents and the influence they can have on their families.
But this book is not a research book. It takes that research, pairs it with his own experience as a grandfather of six, and presents the reader with an action plan for building a foundation of connection, communication, and mutual support. The book includes questionnaires, quizzes and templates for creating your own plan for grandparenting. These are paired with sample scenarios and Witkovsky’s sound advice. Sprinkled throughout are heartwarming stories from grandchildren about the impact their grandparents had on their lives.
The Grandest Love includes two valuable chapters for families that may be experiencing conflict and poor communication. Chapter III, Gateway to the Grandest Love: Rebuilding Trust, Achieving Forgiveness, shares suggestions for healing the rift that may already be in place in your relationship with your adult children. Chapter IV, TLC (“Tender Loving Communication”): The Grandest Way to Avoid and Resolve Conflict, presents a model of communication that will avoid future rifts and misunderstandings.
Jerry Witkovsky’s book is a great resource for all grandparents who want to make a difference in the lives of their adult children and grandchildren. But if you are struggling with the relationship with your adult children, it’s a must read. Get your copy today.
Want another powerful tool for creating relationships that will sustain and enrich the lives of your family? Check out New Grandparent Essentials, our exclusive guide for grandparents.