The ultimate guide to being a new grandparent
18th November 2022
Becoming a grandparent can be a wonderful thing. Many people are incredibly excited by the prospect of being a grandparent and look forward to spending lots of time with their grandchild. However, for some, becoming a grandparent can be quite daunting, especially when it’s been a long time since they had young children themselves. If you are soon to become a grandparent for the first time and are looking for some advice, this ultimate guide to being a new grandparent is for you. Here you will find tips, recommendations, and resources, to help you to make the best start in your new family role. If there is a particular area or topic you are interested in, you can click on the below links to jump down to the section of the article that you are most interested in:
- Tips for first-time grandparents
- Useful items for grandparents to buy
- Grandparents of children with disabilities
- Resources for prospective grandparents
Tips for first-time grandparents
No matter if you're an active recent retiree, or a less mobile stair lift user, our top tips can help you flourish in your new role as a grandma or grandpa.
Let parents do things their way
You might have ideas and opinions about the best way to raise a child, but as you’ll know from your own experience as a parent, it's important to let the parents do things their own way. Your role as a grandparent is to be supportive, not to tell them what they should and should not be doing, so be careful when dealing out unsolicited advice. So, if the parents have certain rules about the baby, try your best to follow them and respect their wishes. You want them to appreciate your support and you can enjoy spending time with your grandchild.
Being careful with advice is something that parent Claire, from the lifestyle blog Life, Love and Dirty Dishes, thinks is important: “My advice would be to enjoy your new grandchild. Remember how overwhelming it is when you become a parent for the first time. Be there for support but try not to offer advice unless it is asked for.”
Letting parents find their feet and do things their own way is also advice that parent and family lifestyle blogger Rachel Bustin definitely recommends: “My top tip for the grandparent would be to be there for support, and ear at the end of the phone. Don't necessarily overcrowd the new parents. Let them find their feet and get into a routine. By all means, take over a meal for them, offer to do the dishes or run errands. You will discover these small gestures will mean a lot to new parents.”
Communicate, listen and ask questions
Communication, like in so many areas of life, is key for all grandparents and parents. The requirements of a child are constantly changing as they develop. For example, the child may have unique dietary needs that you need to be aware of. If you are unsure of something, perhaps about how the parents want to handle a certain situation, ask questions. The last thing you want to do is make the child poorly because you have fed the child something they are currently unable to eat.
Being a good grandparent also means understanding what the parents truly need from you by listening and picking up on what they are communicating to you. Lauren, a parent from the family blog, The Heaton Family, has shared her advice for new grandparents based on her perspective as a parent:
“My top piece of advice for someone about to become a grandparent for the first time would be to ask what the parents need from you and to respect their boundaries as new parents. It’s so easy to get distracted by wanting to cuddle the new baby, but it’s far more important to make sure that you’re respecting the new parents’ needs.
“They may need food making, help with cleaning, or help holding the baby while they shower. But they also may just need you to keep your distance while they settle. My top tip is to make sure you’re truly listening and respecting what the new parents need from you now your new grandchild is here.”
Try to be a calm, reassuring presence to the parents
As you’ll know, being a parent is a difficult enough job as it is without grandparents adding to their anxieties. Try your best not to panic on a parent’s behalf, especially during difficult moments such as an unwell baby or a scare during pregnancy. Instead, be a calm, reassuring presence in their lives, don’t fill them with worries and concerns. You want to be the rock that they lean on, not someone that makes them feel more anxious.
When you are expecting a grandchild, it can be very exciting and easy to get ahead of yourself with a shopping spree. After all, there are so many things a parent needs or lovely little presents that you would like to generously buy for a baby. However, it’s important not to overdo things and overwhelm the parent with lots of things. Ask the parents what they need or if there is an item they would like, after all, they might already have what you want to buy.
Offer to help out
New parents need all the help they can get so as a grandparent, make it your goal to be as helpful as possible. As you'll know having been a parent yourself, there are a million and one things to take care of when you have a baby, so by offering to go food shopping, cook, or run errands for the parents, you can make life much easier for them. Ask them what they need and if there is anything you can help with, it might just be babysitting one night a week so they can have a little break.
Hannah, from the blog Han Plans, shares a story about how her grandmother was a big help to her mum: “My mum often tells the story of how she came home from the hospital with me. My grandma pretty much camped out at my parent’s house while my dad was at work. She assisted with looking after my mum (so she could look after me), looking after the house, doing the laundry and other things like that. I think she also said about how grandma would put the dinner on so that when my dad walked through the door it just needed to be dished up.
“Grandma would get her cuddles in so mum could nap or have a break, but that wasn't what grandma was there for. When there were guests who came to see me, grandma would be the tea lady and make sure everyone had a cuppa and a biscuit and then she'd sit in the other room so that my mum had time with me and her guests. (I think grandma was also prepped with a code word or phrase to kick the guests out when mum had had enough).”
Hannah also says that communication is really important because there was a time when a relative was supposed to be helping her and her 3-week-old baby while her husband was away, and a lack of communication resulted in the new mother not receiving the help she needed with food shopping and dinner. Hannah, therefore, stresses the importance of both parents and grandparents properly communicating for a successful relationship.
Karen, from the family blog, The 3am Diary, definitely recommends that grandparents offer to help out but that they should make sure to take the parent’s lead with regards to what they need:
“My parents have recently become grandparents for the second time, and it is interesting to see things differently after the birth of my nephew, considering it was such a whirlwind when my own daughter was born. I think the best piece of advice is to take the lead of the parents and for the grandparents to simply ask them 'what can I do to help?'
“Things like bringing a meal for the freezer, helping to tidy the kitchen a little, or helping in a way they are able to (ability depending), really makes a difference rather than making set plans or bringing over lots of gifts that they may not need/use. Parenting may be done differently from how it was done when they were parents themselves, so just take the lead from the parents and ask what you can do to help.”
You’ll already know that being a parent means your needs and requirements change quickly so as a grandparent it’s important to be flexible in order to be as helpful as possible. Sarah, a parent from the blog, Life in Full Flavour, has shared her advice for grandparents and highlights the importance of flexibility:
“One of the most helpful things a new grandparent can do is be flexible. Becoming a parent is a shock to the system so having grandparents that are happy to just pop over while you take a nap or have a shower is incredibly helpful. It means you'll get lots of cuddles with the baby too! But don't be offended if you don't get asked to stay too long, your child will be finding a new routine with their own family once they become parents, and it might mean you heading off before bath or bedtime.”
Prepare to entertain
Come rain or shine, in the car or at home, new grandparents need to make sure that their grandchildren are entertained when they are visiting.
There are lots of ways you can keep your grandchildren entertained no matter their age and here are some ideas of activities you can try.
Toys and games
Games are a wonderful way to connect with your grandchildren and enable you to have a little fun without having to move a great deal. Below are some popular games and toys you can play with your grandchildren.
- Bubble blower
- Puppet show
- Bouncy balls
Buying sensory toys for a newborn baby is a great idea as not only does it keep them entertained, it also helps them to develop. The benefits of sensory play in early childhood are immense and no matter what the child’s age group, child’s development stage or learning style, they will all benefit from sensory stimulation and sensory play-based learning.
Some of the benefits of sensory play are:
- Supports language development, cognitive growth, motor skills, problem-solving skills and social interaction
- Helps develop a child’s memory function
- Helps to calm a child
- Help children learn vitally important sensory attributes such as hot, cold, sticky, dry, etc
- It aids a child’s concentration and focus
Another great activity to inspire your grandchildren is to read with them. It isn’t just educational for them, but it provides valuable bonding time.
Karen, the founder of The Geordie Grandma blog, talks about why reading is a great idea: “A very obvious activity but something my grandchildren love is me reading to them. We have lots of books suitable for children under 5, most of them picked up from charity shops or car boot sales. When they’re two they don’t really want you to actually read the story. So I’ll get them to find certain things in the pictures or point things out to them. Then when they get a little older they usually want you to read the story a few times! My grandkids love The Beast Beneath The Bed and On The Road with Mavis and Marge.”
Some popular children’s books include:
- How to Babysit a Grandpa
- Gangsta Granny
- The Hobbit
- Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
From inexpensive indoor activities to outdoor adventures, there are activities for grandchildren of all ages and here we have listed some activity ideas for children.
- Science experiments: a great indoor activity that is also educational. You can buy science kits online like the Horrible Science Explosive Elements.
- Go bug hunting: a popular outdoor activity is going bug hunting. There will be lots of creepy crawlies in the garden, or you can explore your local park.
- Grow your own fruit & veg: grandchildren will love getting their hands dirty and enjoy seeing the results of their hard work. You could plant a runner bean climber in a large plant pot or grow some strawberries or herbs in a window box.
- Drawing: encouraging your grandchildren to draw is another must-do activity. You can give them a theme to follow and once they’ve finished you can stick it on your fridge.
Childproof your house
It doesn’t matter if your grandchildren are visiting for a quick bite to eat or staying overnight, it is very important to ensure your home is a safe and happy environment for the little ones when they come over.
There are a number of ways you can make your home grandchild-friendly and here are some of the best ways to do it.
Keep children safe from electronics
Children sticking their fingers in electrical sockets and outlets can expose them to electrocution, but there are lots of preventative measures you can take.
There are plug guard sockets you can use to keep crawling babies and toddlers safe, whilst cable clips and coil wraps will help to keep cables and wires safely tucked away. You should also hide any electrical cords you have lying on the floor behind the furniture to avoid children from tripping over the wires and hurting themselves.
Keep anything dangerous out of reach
Young children often don’t understand that a knife or bleach can be harmful to them and it’s important that you keep anything dangerous up high and out of harm’s way.
By keeping it as high as possible it is then out of reach from your grandchildren and this is something Lottie Manns from the Rock My Family blog highly recommends.
“Not so much something you can buy but a piece of advice. Make sure you keep anything dangerous out of harm’s way.
“Ideally you want it all situated as high as possible away from grasping hands. This isn’t even restricted to babies and toddlers. The girls now reach into the cutlery drawer to get their own spoons so I’ve had to make sure there are no sharp knives or scissors that they could pick up instead.”
Create a playroom or space for your grandchildren
Whether it is a playroom or an area of a room, it is important that you create somewhere where your grandchildren can play with toys.
Having a toy box and games for the kids to play with will keep children entertained and you can refresh the toys every year.
The area of your home that you dedicate to playtime should be made child-friendly and you will need to move ornaments, antiques and other breakables.
Create an outdoor play area
During the summer and on sunny days, children will want to spend time playing outdoors. It is therefore a great idea to have an outdoor area that your grandchildren can play in.
You can have slides, swings, inflatable pools, and sandpits in your outdoor play area.
Get your car ready
Getting from point A to point B with a child is more complicated than it is when it is just adults travelling in a vehicle. If you have recently seen the arrival of your first grandchild, it doesn’t mean you have to buy a new car as there are plenty of ways you can make your existing vehicle child friendly.
But before looking at the different accessories you can purchase for your vehicle, you need to know what the car seat rules are. In the UK, the law for child car seats states that children must normally use a car seat until they’re 12 years old or 135 centimetres tall. Once children are 12 or older, then they must wear a seat belt.
Here are ways you can make your car child-friendly:
- Secure car seats – there are two types of car seats with one allowing you to remove the base, and the other type being convertible car seats that can grow with the baby.
- Use baby gear to keep a child occupied - installing equipment like a mirror and some car seat toys will help keep them occupied during any journey.
- Install window tints or a sunshade – children can often get irritated if they are too hot and adding window tints or putting up a sunshade will not only help to keep your grandchild cool, but it will keep the sun out of their eyes.
Jaime, who is the writer of The Oliver’s Madhouse blog, also recommends you buy a seat protector: “Because your child will be in a car seat and then a booster seat for quite some time, it can leave some rather deep imprints on the seat. Kids are also prone to spills and messes, which can leave stains. It’s a good idea to use a seat protector under the car seat and a booster seat to protect the fabric. These are very inexpensive and some are even washable.”
READ ALSO: A grandparent's guide to the school run
Don’t push yourself too hard
Everyone wants to be an active grandparent and you want to have lots of fun, but you also need to know your limits and look after your health. If you have mobility issues and you need aids such as curved stairlifts or mobility scooters to get around, then you shouldn’t try to walk for too long or exert yourself too much.
It is not admirable to push yourself when your body and mind beg you to stop, so think of doing activities that will occupy your grandchild and allow you to sit down. This could be getting them to draw something for you or you could play a board game together. If you are outdoors then take your grandchild to a play area as you can sit down on a bench and keep an eye on them from there.
Embrace every moment
Grandchildren are such a blessing and you should cherish every moment with them as they will grow up quickly. A strong grandparent-grandchild relationship also improves well-being and reduces depressive symptoms in both parties.
Karen, from the 3am Diary, adds: “We are really lucky to have our daughter's grandparents in our lives, but we live 100 miles away, so we try to make the time as special as possible, depending on how well her grandparents are at the time. Special memories can just be reading stories together or allowing the new mum to go have a shower while grandparents watch the baby (if they are able to) - it doesn't need to be expensive gifts or days out - just precious time together. Parenting a newborn can be lonely, so even just being on the end of a phone for a little chat if needed can make that difference to a new parent.”
Sarah from Boo Roo and Tigger Too says that spending time with grandchildren will also improve your mental and physical health: “Spending time with grandchildren is not only beneficial for their physical health, but it’s also beneficial for their mental health too. Little ones help in keeping seniors’ brains sharp, which can help fight Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
Tips for first-time grandparents
- Let parents do things their way
- Listen and ask questions
- Try to be a calm, reassuring presence to the parents
- Don’t overshop
- Offer to help out
- Be flexible
- Prepare to entertain
- Childproof your house
- Get your car ready
- Don’t push yourself too hard
- Embrace every moment
Useful items for grandparents to buy
Becoming a grandparent is exciting and it’s understandable that you want to get ready for when the baby comes – after all you will likely be looking forward to having the child stay with you. There are lots of things to remember so here we have highlighted some essential items you’ll need.
There will surely be times that you will want to take your new grandchild in the car with you, whether that’s to take your grandchild to the park, to pick them up from their parents, or simply if you need to run an errand while the child is in your care. As a result, it’s important to have a child’s car seat ready in your car that is appropriate for their age and installed in a safe and legal manner. You can learn about car child seat laws via the government website.
A pram is a must-have item for any grandparent. Even if you can use the parents’ pram on most occasions, having one ready at home makes things nice and easy, especially during last-minute babysitting days. As you won’t be using it every day, you don’t need to fork out for something too expensive but a robust, lightweight pram that you can easily store away when not in use will be a key tool to have at your disposal.
A place for the baby to sleep
Babies sleep a lot so even if your grandchild isn’t staying the night, you will need to make sure they have a safe and comfortable place to sleep. A travel cot is an excellent option as it can be put away when not in use. It’s also good to think about what room you would like them to sleep in, take a look at the room and make sure it’s a suitable location for a baby. Having the sleeping situation sorted out will mean you are ready to go for the baby’s visits.
Whether you are at home or on the go, make sure you have a changing bag ready and waiting. Pack it full of all the essential items, such as nappies, baby wipes, lotion, rash cream, a changing mat, and a change of clothes for when the baby makes a bit of a mess. Make sure you bring it with you when you are going out – you could even keep a spare one in the car boot just in case.
Having spare baby clothes at your house is a must for grandparents in case of spillages and any toilet accidents that occur whilst you are looking after them. If your grandchild is staying overnight, then you will need some overnight clothing, a cot and any special blankets or toys they have which help them get to sleep. Some of the useful clothing items you can keep at your home include coats, hats, bibs, socks, underwear, and nappies.
If you aren’t sure what your grandchild will and won’t eat, then the first thing you need to do is to speak to the parents as the last thing you want to do is to give them something which they are allergic to.
If your grandchild is still a baby then here’s a quick lowdown on what to feed a baby and when:
- 4-6 months – Purees
- 6-9 months – Thicker consistency
- 10-12 months – Soft, chewable chunks
If your grandchild is staying for a few days, it’s a good idea to make sure that you have enough baby food to last their visit. That way, you don’t need to rely on nipping to the shops in the middle of the visit.
If you are opening up a new jar of baby food, there’s no need to heat it up, as you can serve it at room temperature. If, however, you are feeding them leftovers or food that has been previously prepared and refrigerated, it is wise to put it in the microwave to warm up as not only will this kill any bacteria, it will taste nicer warm.
Nappies and changing mat
Babies are adorable, but they can also be very messy and nappy changing can be a stressful and never-ending ritual.
It doesn’t matter whether you are at home or are out and about, a baby mat and a pack of nappies are two of the most essential items that you will need to pack.
A changing mat allows you to comfortably and cleanly change your grandchild. A mat can also be cleaned very easily, which is really helpful if you are on a day out.
Your grandchildren may need a bath when they are staying at your house, especially if they are staying overnight.
You will need to keep some bathing items at your home and including a baby bath, towels, bath toys, and specialist shampoo and body wash that your grandchildren can use is a wise thing to do.
Bath times don’t have to be hard work and can be made fun, which is why it is a good idea to have a collection of waterproof toys that your grandchildren can play with as they get washed.
Items that new grandparents need
- Car seat
- A place for the baby to sleep
- Changing bag
- Baby clothes
- Baby food
- Nappies and changing mat
- Bathing items
Grandparents of children with disabilities
Being a grandparent is always a blessing but there are extra things to be aware of when your grandchild has a disability. The essentials are the same, of course, being a loving, caring, supportive figure in the life of both child and parent but there are specific things you can do to make life easier for everyone concerned.
For example, if your grandchild is going to grow up to have limited mobility, consider making your home accessible to them so it’s safe whenever they visit or teach them to use aids in your home like a homelift from a young age. You can also spend time learning about their disability, helping you to understand what they are going through, be prepared for the future, and become the grandparent the child needs.
Communication with the parents will be more important than ever if your grandchild has a disability. Find out what you need to know from the parents, ask them how you can be of the most help to them, and let them know that your love for the grandchild is unconditional.
Resources for prospective grandparents
There are some really helpful and useful resources out there for grandparents. From support networks and charities to advice and forums, take a look at some of the best grandparent resources available below.
Gransnet is an online community for over 50s. There is a discussion forum where users give each other advice and support, discussing everything from being a grandparent and style tips to money-saving discounts and competitions. It’s free to join Gransnet and although you don’t have to register to read the forums, you will need to register if you would like to post a comment.
You can join Gransnet here.
Passing Down The Love
If you are a first-time grandmother, then Passing Down The Love is a great resource you can use as you’ll find useful tips and ideas for new grandparents. There are articles about being a grandparent for the first time, information on the different activities you can try with grandchildren and lots more.
Family Lives provides targeted early intervention and crisis support to families. If you need or a family member needs to talk, their experts will listen to you and share advice. Their website has a variety of useful articles that you can read covering topics such as talking to your grandchildren, making the internet safer for them, and helping your grandchildren to live a healthy life.
Bristol Grandparents Support Group
Bristol Grandparents Support Group was founded by Jane & Marc Jackson after they lost contact with their granddaughter. After being unable to find independent, good advice, they started the Bristol Grandparents Support Group and it has now evolved into a group run by its members, who decide in which direction it should grow. Despite being based in Bristol, the group supports grandparents from across the UK and beyond.
Contact is a charity for families with disabled children, helping to provide the support they need. They have put together an online guide just for grandparents, discussing the role of grandparents, how to navigate difficult relationships, and the support that is available. So, if you are a grandparent of a disabled child, this is a great resource to take advantage of.
If you are a grandparent who cares for a child under 12, you could be entitled to support from the government in the form of National Insurance credits, helping to contribute towards your state pension. You can find out all the details and learn if you’re eligible by visiting the government website. Grandparents who look after children play a key role in that child’s life and society as a whole, so make sure you are receiving the help you are entitled to.
READ ALSO: The best discounts for over 60s in the UK
Advice, tips, and resources for first-time grandparents
Hopefully, this guide has been helpful and provided you with some helpful tips, advice, and resources for beginning your new role as a grandparent. Being a grandparent is an incredibly exciting period in life so embrace the joy that a grandchild brings and savour every moment.
For more tips, guides, and advice make sure to visit our news page.
This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.