Teaching your child

Looking forward to grandparenthood

Looking forward to grandparenthood

September 27, 2002|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

A friend recently asked, "So, why did you decide to have kids?"

Since I've never been asked that question, I had to stop and think about my answer.

I told her it seemed like a natural extension of the love my husband and I share.

It's a lot of fun to teach another human being a new skill. (Parents do a lot of teaching.)

And, there's nothing like sharing the joy of triumph with a child who has worked long and hard on a project.

While all those reasons are true, there's one that I failed to mention.

I'm looking forward to grandchildren.

Little ones you can do fun things with ... and then give them back when it's time for all the tough stuff.


Little ones you can pat on the shoulder with a knowing smile when they tell you how mean their parents are.

Little ones content to sit or swing for long periods of time with no agenda - simply to be.

Doesn't that thought provide a sense of peace from the stress of life?

That's exactly what grandchildren can do for their grandparents.

Grandchildren bring health and happiness, says Dr. Roger Landry, a preventive medicine physician and aging consultant.

Landry stresses the findings of the Successful Aging project sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation. The study determined that only about 30 percent of physical aging can be attributed to genes. Making the right lifestyle choices - good nutrition, exercise, engaging in mentally stimulating activities and maintaining a sense of community - is key to aging successfully.

The research project found that people who keep active physically and mentally live fuller, richer lives and tend to live longer than those who don't.

"I don't know anything more physically or mentally challenging than keeping up with a child," Landry says.

The relationship works both ways.

"In general, we think it's something grandparents need and something children don't need," Landry says. "That's simply not true. "

Children need the cheerleading seniors can provide. Plus, children are fascinated with older people - the wrinkles, the age spots, the canes. And they often ask questions that bring a chuckle.

A study of New England centenarians - those age 100 or more - found that common traits in people who live for a long time include a sense of humor and a sense of optimism, Landry says.

It's hard not to laugh when children are around, and grandparents often find themselves wanting to make a child laugh, said Landry, who has been a grandpa for a year.

If you don't know how to connect with your grandchild, start with a simple question, "What would you like to do?"

The activity will be especially exciting for the child if the idea is initiated by him, Landry says.

It could be a social event, or could involve animals or plants.

"It's important that grandparents have an activity with their grandchildren that becomes a ritual," Landry says.

It could be doing the same thing each year, month, week. Children like routine, which is also acceptable to many older adults. So, both parties will be content.

The activity could be one that the child only does with that grandparent.

Try to avoid TV, which is not good for children or seniors, Landry says.

As people age, they tend to become increasingly isolated. Friends move away. Spouses die. Isolation can lead to depression.

Grandchildren can provide networking opportunities. Seniors can strike up a conversation while on the sidelines of a soccer game or while waiting for a piano recital to begin.

Children also often encourage seniors to learn new things, which can create new brain connections in older brains, Landry says.

"As one is just developing those skills, the other is losing those skills, but they don't have to lose those skills," Landry says. "We have the concept that we learn everything we're going to in the first couple decades of life."

Research shows that seniors are very capable of learning, Landry says. It may take them longer to learn, but many times seniors will retain and more fully use what they learn than will their younger counterparts, Landry says.

Society will become more senior-friendly, Landry predicts. By 2040, almost every third person will be older than 65.

Lord willing, I'll be one of them.

And I'm going to enjoy every little giggle I get.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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