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Sharp Health News

The health benefits of having (and being) grandparents

Sept. 6, 2018

The health benefits of grandparents

The results are in: grandparents help children live healthier lives. Bonus benefit? The positive health effects can be reciprocal.

“Grandparents are in a unique position to have a tremendous impact on the lives of their grandkids,” says Dr. Vivek Nazareth, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “At the same time, they enrich the lives of their own children as well as themselves.”

Benefits to grandchildren
Grandparents are notorious for spoiling their grandkids. And now, they have an excuse. A recent study showed decreased depression in kids who were closely bonded to their grandparents. Here’s why:

  • Grandparents have the opportunity to choose
  • Grandparents are at the stage in their lives where they are not primary caregivers, and they can choose how involved they want to get. When people do things out of choice, and not of need, their approach, attitudes and interactions are much more positive, leading to better outcomes.
  • Kids and adolescents tend to be easier on their grandparents
    Grandparents have a special bond with their grandkids — one that is entirely different from the parent/child relationship. Children, particularly adolescents, are somewhat reluctant to show affection publicly to their own parents because they deem them “not cool” or are afraid of judgement from peers. Grandparents rarely carry the same stigma.
  • Grandparents can be an impartial third party
    Many kids are more comfortable going to their grandparents for advice because their bond is less judgmental and comes with less fear of punishment. Many adults find that grandparents can offer a voice of reason when conflict arises between kids and their parents, as there’s often less frustration and a bigger sense of listening and patience.
  • Grandparents have a wealth of experience
    From medical emergencies to toddler negotiations, grandparents have been there. They have a general idea of what works and what doesn’t, and can separate “needs” from “wants.” When parents struggle with their children, grandparents can help them focus on the destination, while enjoying the (sometimes bumpy) journey.

Benefits to grandparents 
Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from a grandparent’s time and devotion. A recent study showed that seniors who babysit live longer and experience less depression. Being a grandparent can improve a senior’s health because:

  • Kids keep grandparents physically and mentally active
    Whether they’re walking to the park or explaining long division, interacting with kids can help an older adult stay physically active and mentally sharp. While overdoing it can cause fatigue or stress, finding a good balance in caregiving can make a big difference in a grandparent’s overall health.
  • Grandparents can live vicariously through their children
    The role of grandparent can bring a new sense of purpose, pride and joy. Being involved in a grandchild’s growth and development brings an emotional satisfaction that is unique from that of a parent.
  • Kids are genuinely interested in helping their grandparents
    When grandparents need help or assistance, many grandchildren jump at the chance. Because they are “asked” and not “ordered,” and are appreciated for their actions, kids are more willing to be by their grandparent’s side.
  • Grandparents have a revered role in the family
    In most cultures, grandparents have a special position of reverence, respect, trust and affection. They are often the heart of their families, and can take pride in the admiration and achievements of their offspring. While aging comes with its challenges, seeing the growth of new generations can be the happiest time in a person’s life.

Grandparenting from afar
But what if Grandma lives far away, does the bond suffer? In short, it doesn’t have to. Face-to-face interactive media, such as Skype or FaceTime, bring families together on a regular basis. And while the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is careful not to recommend too much screen time for children, device interaction with grandparents is a strong exception.

“It’s easier than ever to keep in close contact, even from around the world,” says Dr. Nazareth. “My own kids communicate with their grandparents in India weekly. No matter how a grandparent bonds with his or her grandchildren, it’s so important. And it’s a relationship that a child will hold onto forever.”

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