Our grandchildren are being raised differently. Does this mean we were bad parents?
Do you know who your adult children’s favorite parenting expert is? While many grandparents would like to think that they are the one their kids rely on for advice on childrearing, more and more often that isn’t true. When we were raising our kids, we tended to parent either as we had been raised—or as far from that as possible! We had very few experts to choose from: T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Spock and Penelope Leach are the only ones I can think of! (If you have any more, drop them in the comments!)
Thanks to the wonders of modern communication, parents today have a wide range of experts and parent influencers to lean on for advice about the best way to raise healthy, well-adjusted children. This means that there’s a good chance that the way your grandchildren are being raised is different from the way you raised your kids.
The reason these methods are growing in popularity is that they are based on more recent research, not because what we did was “wrong”. As grandparents, understanding the “new ways” allows us to better support our children’s parenting journey, and helps us appreciate that our own parenting is not being judged.
The New Ways of Parenting
What are those new ways? There are several, but labels include gentle parenting, peaceful parenting, conscious parenting and unconditional parenting. This post isn’t going to go into details about each method’s gurus and differences, but instead focus on what they have in common.
All of these are evidence-based philosophies for fostering the qualities you want in your child by being compassionate and enforcing consistent boundaries. Instead of focusing on children’s behavior, parents focus on their emotions and helping children to learn to regulate themselves. The idea is that by being gentle when a child is angry, frustrated, or acting out, parents are modeling tolerance and flexibility and teaching them how to be well-adjusted humans.
This doesn’t mean that bad behavior is ignored. One of the common tenets is that while all feelings are acceptable, not all behaviors are. For example, if a toddler grabs a toy from their baby brother, instead of sternly telling them they can’t play with that right now, a gentle approach would be to say, “I know it’s hard when someone else is playing with something you want. You’ll be able to play with the car when Robbie’s done with it. Would you like to draw a picture while you wait?” You’d still enforce the rule of “No Grabbing”, but your response shows you understand your child’s feelings and you are modeling how to handle difficult situations, which will give them the emotional resilience they’ll need as they grow.
Today's post was written by Emily Morgan, host of the The Grand Life: Wholehearted Grandparenting podcast.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Becky Kennedy, author of parenting guide Good Inside, seems to have struck a nerve with a whole generation of millennial parents. Although she’s not the first to prescribe something generally known as Gentle Parenting, she is one of its most popular proponents. The premise, that every child is good inside and that we must treat them with the respect they deserve, triggers the grandparenting baby-boomer generation in a particular way, especially if we were reared and then reared our own children with an authoritarian bent.
The old adages “do as I say,” and “because I told you to” just don't cut it with Kennedy. Nor does it fly with her over one million followers on social media who quote her like the Bible and refer to her simply as Dr. Becky. “Underneath bad behavior is a good child,” she writes. That philosophy would not have flown in my own upbringing either.
I was born into a Baptist home and, consequently, into a belief system that supported the biblical notion that my sin nature (original sin) existed in me from the beginning. As Psalm 51:5 of the Bible states, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” I didn’t stand a chance of being considered good inside. Guilt was my friend from day one, and it was assumed that when I said something that sounded wrong, I was probably lying. When I questioned any authority, especially a parent, I was considered rebellious. I learned early on that my heart was really not to be trusted to do the right thing, say the right thing, or have pure motives about much.
I was born a Baptist, yes, but as an adult I no longer embrace those doctrines. However, pushing aside the feelings that I still get when I do something as a 60-year-old that was considered “bad” in my upbringing—drinking a glass of wine, going to an R-rated movie—those actions often evoke a cascade of guilt. It’s hard to rebel. Just ask an Amish kid during Rumspringa. For much of my life, my worth was predicated on how much of who I am could be emptied out and replaced with a righteousness that I didn’t naturally possess. If I left those doctrines behind, who was I really?
Dr. Becky actually addresses this deep-rooted shame and guilt when she explains that the early years matter. “Even if kids can’t remember with their words, they can—and do—remember with something more powerful: their bodies. Before they can talk, children learn, based on interactions with their parents, what feels acceptable or shameful, manageable or overwhelming. In this way, our “memories” from early childhood are in fact more powerful than the memories we form in our later years; the way parents interact with kids in their early years form the blueprint they take with them into the world.”
Grandma Sonia was at the playground with her daughter, watching her grandson navigate the play structure. He was concentrating hard, carefully placing each hand and foot to go up the pretend rock climbing wall. When he made it to the top and turned to beam at his mother and grandmother, Sonia crowed, “Good job!”
“Mom, we don’t say ‛good job’,” said her daughter.
“What the heck?” thought Sonia. But instead of saying that, she asked her daughter to share the reasons behind the philosophy.
Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation—or maybe you haven’t yet, but will someday soon! Many parents are familiar with research which shows that rewarding kids with phrases like “Good job!” can have a negative effect on their self-worth. Alfie Kohn, a researcher and lecturer on human behavior, education, and parenting, lists five reasons that “good job” should be eliminated from adults’ vocabulary.
For many of us, a “Good job” falls off our lips every time our grandchild does anything! Even knowing that it can undermine their development isn’t enough to curb our desire to provide positive feedback.
What to say instead of “Good Job”
If you Google alternatives to saying “good job”, you will stumble upon multiple blog posts and articles. Many of them, however, offer alternatives that are basically the same thing: offering value judgements for a child’s action or achievement. I try to keep my reactions to one of these things:
Offering a comment that is pure commentary. “The blocks are all picked up!” or “We can read a story now that you’ve brushed your teeth” shows that I’ve noticed without offering my own judgement.
Showing gratitude. “Thanks for showing me your picture!” or a simple “Thank you” when a child follows directions reinforces good manners and acknowledges their effort without praising it.
Asking questions. “How did you get those cars cleaned up so fast?” or “Can you tell me more about the house you drew?” helps them reinforce their own effort, rather than offering external validation.
Saying nothing. Instead of praising your grandchild next time they accomplish something, watch their face instead. If they look to you for validation, smile and say nothing. A child who successfully assembled a jigsaw puzzle already knows they did a good job—the completed puzzle proves it.
Maybe it’s okay if grandparents say “Good job!”?
If you spend a lot of time with your grandchildren, it’s important to cooperate with parents on subjects like this. If they would like you to avoid offering excess praise, you’ll want to practice the alternatives. It’s not easy, but it becomes more natural with practice.
If you don’t see your grandchildren often, I’d argue that frequent praise is not only okay, but possibly healthy for your relationship with your grandchild. Studies on the grandparent-grandchild relationship have shown that children will actively seek out advice and support from a grandparent they viewed as an uncritical advocate. Showing enthusiasm for their accomplishments is just one way to let them know you are always on their side.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your experience or opinion in the comments!
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Grandparents can learn a lot about what parents need by following helpful social media accounts aimed at parents.
Don’t you hate it when your social media feed is full of ads that make it seems like they are listening to your conversations, or even your thoughts? They claim they aren’t listening, but it’s hard to believe when you are near someone talking about their ski trip and the next time you open Facebook there is an ad for Park City.
I do know that much of it depends on the accounts you follow. I’m constantly getting targeted on Instagram with ads aimed at parents, even though my days of needing breast pumps are long gone. It’s understandable though, because I follow more than a few accounts that are aimed at parents.
I think you should, too.
It’s incredibly helpful to see what parents are being bombarded with. By following accounts that are aimed at parents, we can keep up with what they are seeing. This means that instead of having to ask why they are doing something different from the way we did it, we can just step in with support if needed.
What are the newest gadgets, both useful and absurd? What’s the latest research on screen time or fluoride or the power of nature? What are the emerging theories on feeding/sleeping/playing? Why are car seat recommendations so different now than they were 5, 10, 20 years ago?
No matter which social media platform you spend time on, there are great parent-focused accounts to follow. I like Instagram, because it’s easier to see what I want to see and avoid what I don't. Here are some of the Instagram accounts I find incredibly useful:
For all things safety related, @safebeginnings is a gold mine of information. @safeintheseat is the best for information about car seat safety.
@pedsdoctalk shares valuable content about pediatric health and more.
The content @growing.intuitive.eaters shares about helping children have a healthy relationship with food is entertaining and educational.
@likeasistersupport keeps me in the loop about the needs of new parents with research-based information on feeding and more, and @resttoyournest has taught me a lot about current sleep theories.
I’ve learned so much about new ways of parenting from @toryhalpin, and you will, too!
If your grandchildren are neurodivergent or just high-spirited, follow one or all of these: @maryvangeffen, @copingskillsforkids and @benjamin.mizrahi.
To learn more about the struggles parents are facing with burnout and more, follow @runtellmom and @feminist.mom.therapist.
Following a wide range of informational accounts will enable you to be more supportive of parents. Just remember, you are trying to understand parents better, not educate them with what you learn. Depending on your relationship, you may be able to share an account or post without causing offense. Here are some ways to approach it if you want to share a post.
When sharing an account, you can first see if parents are already following it. If they aren’t, you can say something like: “I stumbled across this account and it seems to have really great information. Thought I’d share!”
Be wary of misinformation, which is abundant on social media. Before sharing something from a source you haven’t checked out completely, do a little research. When I see something I’m unfamiliar with, like a claim that high fructose corn syrup is banned in other countries, I always try to learn more about it by verifying it with independent sources. (Turns out it’s not, it’s just labeled differently—thanks, @foodsciencebabe.)
Finally, make sure that you aren’t sharing things too often. Save it for when there is something really worthwhile, and use the opportunity to open up a conversation.
Are you more of a Facebook or TikTok user? Let me know in the comments and I’ll suggest accounts on those platforms for you to follow!
Even positive comments about our grandchildren’s bodies can send the wrong message.
The last time her mother visited, Denise found herself consoling her 7-year-old son over something she’d never expected.
“He was in his room crying, and I asked him what was wrong,” she told a friend. “He said he didn’t want to be fat. I had to run through the morning’s conversation in my head before I realized that Grandma had said he was getting a little chubby. I’m pretty sure she had no idea how much her off-hand remark affected him.”
After assuring her son that his body was just the right size to be strong, healthy and able, Denise had a little chat with her mother. And then asked me to have a little chat with all of you about body image!
WHAT IS BODY IMAGE?
Body image is how your grandchild feels about his or her body. Positive or negative, that image starts to form at a very early age—as young as three years old, according to some researchers. In the early years, the messages they get from the people around them have the most impact on how they view their bodies. Too many comments about their size, weight, or appearance can cause them to base their self-worth on their bodies instead of their abilities.
WHY DOES BODY IMAGE MATTER IN YOUNG CHILDREN?
Poor body image has been linked to low self-esteem, higher chances of anxiety or depression, and eating disorders. In the US, 40-60% of girls ages 6-12 are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. (Smolak, 2011). Over half of 11-16 year olds in UK say they often worry about the way they look. In other words, it’s crucial to make sure they get the right messages in those formative early years. This means what grandparents say matters—a lot.
HOW GRANDPARENTS CAN HELP FOSTER A POSITIVE BODY IMAGE
As children get older, media, social media and peers all have a strong influence on their self-image. Setting a foundation before your grandchildren are exposed to those messages will help protect them when they encounter societal pressure.
Help Kids Feel Confident
Encourage your grandchildren to focus on what their bodies can do, not how they look. This will likely take some practice on your part. We are used to saying things like, “You have such pretty hair!” or “Let me kiss those chubby cheeks!”. Frequent comments on appearance, both positive and negative, create the impression that appearance is extremely important. The first step is to be aware of your own behavior. Pay attention to how often you comment on:
Be A Good Role Model
You can be a positive role model by taking care of your own body, and enjoying what it can do. If you have physical limitations, help your grandchildren understand that they don’t define you. Focusing on your abilities will show them that a person is more than their appearance.
Don’t shy away from being photographed, which sends the signal that you don’t like the way you look. Instead, get in that photo with your grandchild!
Don’t put yourself down. Your grandchildren don’t see your wrinkles or thick ankles as negative unless you grumble about them.
Watch What You Say
In our weight-conscious society, unguarded comments about ourselves or others often send the message that thin is the ultimate goal. Avoid observations like these:
Talk About It
If you hear your grandchild making negative comments about their bodies (or other people’s), see it as a teaching moment. Instead of dismissing their concerns about their bodies, ask them to talk to you. If they say unkind things about another child’s body shape or size, talk to them about why that might be hurtful and help them recognize that child’s positive attributes. There are several quality books for young children about body image--read about our favorites here.
One of the joys of being a grandparent is having a positive impact on our growing grandchildren. Now that you know how much impact your comments can make, what will you do differently?
More Things Grandparents Need to Know
When grandparents understand the reasons behind gender-neutral parenting, it’s easy to support it.
The growing popularity of gender-reveal parties lies in sharp contrast to another growing trend: gender neutrality. While some parents are celebrating the discovery of their baby’s gender and going all in on pink or blue, others are fighting against pigeon-holing their child based on their gender. Like all parenting methods that are new to us, it can be confusing to grandparents as we try to figure out how to respect our adult children’s wishes. Here’s a quick look at what gender-neutral parenting is.
What is gender neutrality?
The goal of gender-neutral parenting is to raise children without enforcing traditional gender roles on them. Note the words “gender roles”. Although there are cases where parents believe a child should be free to choose their gender identity, these are the exception rather than the norm. For most parents who want to raise their child in a gender-neutral environment, it’s an attempt to cast off gender stereotypes and focus on the individual.
Gender-neutral parenting doesn’t deny that there are differences between genders. It doesn’t insist that boys who love trucks have to play with dolls, or that girls who want to wear nothing but sparkly pink dresses have to be forces into jeans and t-shirts. The goal is not to raise a genderless child, but one who has the freedom to develop the skills and traits that will best serve them as an individual.
What are gender stereotypes?
Girls are more nurturing. Boys are more energetic. These are not facts, simply stereotypes that are perpetuated from one generation to the next. Here are some more stereotypes:
Do you remember when your baby was born? The doctor or midwife announced the arrival and gave you a quick peek of the child you just labored to bring into the world. Then the baby was whisked away to be cleaned up, weighed, measured and assessed. After an hour or so, a sweet little bundle in a knit hat and flannel blanked with blue and pink stripes was placed in your arms, and you got to properly meet your baby.
Today, medical professionals are recognizing that the first hour after birth is an important time for mother and baby to bond. In many hospitals, they no longer rush to assess babies and complete the checklist of newborn tasks. Instead, they give newborns a chance to acclimate to life outside the womb with a period of skin-to-skin contact with their mother.
You’ll be glad to know the little knit cap is still in the picture! Babies are dried off and placed on their mother’s bare chest, wearing only the cap. A blanket is draped over them, and mother and baby spend up to an hour or more simply enjoying each other.
This intimate time of relaxation is about more than bonding: it has immediate effects on baby’s physical, emotional and social development. According to research, contact with the mother’s skin stimulates the part of a baby’s brain that causes him to move towards the breast and begin feeding. This encourages physical development. Emotional and social development is sparked when the baby opens her eyes and gazes at her mother. What’s more, this period of skin-to-skin contact improves the outcome for both mother and baby.
Benefits of Skin-to-skin Following Birth
Studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth helps mothers by increasing oxytocin, resulting in lower blood pressure, a quicker return to pre-pregnancy hormone levels and lower incidence of post-partum depression. It can reduce post-partum bleeding, increase breastmilk production and improve breastfeeding outcomes.
For baby, the list of benefits is even longer.
Skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth has been shown to improve babies’ ability to absorb and digest nutrients and maintain their body temperature. Their heartbeat and breathing are more stable and they have higher blood oxygen levels. These babies are more successful at breastfeeding immediately after birth, and demonstrate improved weight gain. They spend more time in the crucial deep sleep and quiet alert states and even cry less often.
There are also long-term benefits of skin-to-skin contact, such as improved brain development and function and better parent attachment. Surprisingly, skin-to-skin contact has even been linked to stronger immune systems.
So why do grandparents need to know about this? Because the key to realizing these benefits is letting mother and baby enjoy this window of time without distraction. Grandparents are not part of the equation, and allowing space for parents to bond with their baby is the first generous act you can complete as a grandparent.
If you are lucky enough to be there for the delivery, this means you can help improve the health of both mother and baby by removing yourself from the room. As hard as it might be to tear yourself away, you can give your new grandchild and its parents an enormous gift by stepping away. Go get a cup of coffee and call your best friend with the news (but don’t post it on social media until you’ve been given the green light by parents!). Take a walk and dream about all the things you want to do as a grandparent.
If you aren’t there for the birth, don’t be hurt if you have to wait for a FaceTime call or visit. Your chance to get to know your new grandchild will come soon enough.
And it will definitely be worth the wait.
Wondering what else new grandparents need to know? New Grandparent Essentials is the fastest way to get up to speed on the latest trends and safety information. Get your copy now!
Being the best grandparent sometimes means admitting the old ways aren't the best ways.
What is the best way to introduce solid food to a baby?
Surprisingly, each answer to that question was the right one at one point in time. (Yes, some experts in the 1940s recommended liver soup for babies starting at three months!)
Can you imagine the conversations when those parents became grandparents in the 1960s and '70s? They probably weren’t too different than the ones happening today as grandparents watch their 7-month-old grandchild gnawing on a steak bone or a slice of melon! (Read more about the baby-led weaning method that many of today’s parents are following in this post.)
Child rearing recommendations change regularly, as research and science reveal new information about what is best for babies. In the 1920’s, parents were warned that affection could psychologically damage their babies. One kiss a day, on the forehead, was more than enough, said some experts. Mothers in the 1950s were told that babyproofing was the lazy way out: they should teach their children to stay away from dangers or breakables by yelling at them if they tried to touch something they shouldn’t. These, of course, are the more extreme examples, but they underline the point that advice to new parents is constantly changing.