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3 Cheers for Grandma and Grandpa

Grandparents Day is a time for families to celebrate across generations

My friend Liliana tells me that her son loves to spend time with his grandmother, Encarnacion.  Why?  Because she's fun. She plays games with him, she tells him stories, and she listens to him. Seems pretty simple, huh? What's so special about that?

See also: Grandparents Day is a family affair.

I'll tell you what's so special about Encarnacion and other grandmas and grandpas like her:  They make their grandchildren feel important. Encarnacion plays games her grandson likes to play — and she doesn't always let him win, because she has a competitive streak, which he actually likes. She listens to him. She marvels at his talents and skills. And from my conversation with her, I could tell that she makes each of her grandchildren feel that way — all 17 of them!

Is that the secret to a successful, fulfilling, long-lasting grandparent–grandchild relationship? Something as simple as making each other feel important? I believe it is. And, somehow, that skipped-generation relationship between grandparent and grandchild can allow for a special, mutually-beneficial exchange.

It's not just kids who benefit from this relationship:  I've observed first-hand how grandchildren have a positive influence on grandparents' lives. In focus groups with grandparents, I've heard many people say their grandchildren are the reason they quit smoking, started wearing seatbelts, began to eat more healthy meals, and even stopped swearing

There are an estimated 70 to 80 million grandparents in the United States.  Many of them, such Encarnacion, have grandchildren nearby, so they get to visit frequently. Then there are the long-distance grandparents, who stay in touch with grandchildren via the Internet, telephone, and a few visits a year. Grandparents share varied cultural backgrounds and traditions with their grandchildren. There are grandparents in their 30s and grandparents in their 90s. And more than 2.4 million grandparents in the United States have grandchildren living with them, children for whom they are responsible.

This year, National Grandparents Day is Sept. 11. As I think about this significant, but unfortunately little-known, national holiday approaching, I realized that it's not just a day for grandparents. It's a day for grandchildren, too. It's a day to celebrate this unique and special intergenerational relationship. A time for grandparents to tell grandchildren how important and special they are, and for grandchildren to appreciate and let them know what an important role they play.

Next: Ideas for celebrating Grandparents Day. »

Tips for celebrating grandparents and grandchildren:

  • Make them feel special. Think about what makes the grandparents and grandchildren in your family really feel special. What do they enjoy the most? It may be as simple as a phone call, watching a movie, or sharing a meal together. Or it may require a bit more planning—taking a trip to a favorite destination together. Whatever you do, make it significant to them.
  • Write a letter to your grandparents. Tell tell them how much you appreciate them. Telling them in person or on the phone is good, too, but a letter is something they can keep and go back to again and again.
  • Give a phone card that covers the cost of telephone calls to keep in touch. A phone call from Grandma and Grandpa on the day of a big game, a test or another important event in a grandchild's life can let them know they are important. And a phone call from grandchildren to say hello to grandparents is a special treat at any age.
  • Help grandchildren make a series of cards for grandparents. Get the cards ready and into stamped envelopes, and mail them once a week or once a month to facilitate ongoing interaction.
  • Create a memory book, memoir, scrapbook or family history. This is a great way to capture grandparent's lives for grandchildren to keep. Taking time to do this ensures that your grandchildren will always have a record of your family history or stories. There are many books on this purpose you can buy, or look for a Web site that offers a format and questions to ask.
  • Plan a family game night.Gather the whole family and play games that all generations can enjoy together. From throwing horseshoes to board games to video games like the Wii system, there are many games that are fun and encourage interaction. The best memories are made when laughing and having fun.
  • Sign up for online interactive games. There are many sites now on which grandparents and grandchildren can "virtually" meet and play games together. With the Web, even game players don't have to be in the same place!
  • Take a first step. If the grandparent–grandchild relationships in your family haven't been ideal. You can begin with small steps, such as a phone call, or sharing a meal.

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