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To Grandmother’s House We Go

By Dr. Molly Barrow, Ph.D.

Grandparents may have all the right intentions; however, the arrival of a toddler to their home can be overwhelming. Here are ten tips to help smooth the transition.

1. Forget Clean: Forego a straight or clean home. A toddler is not capable of adjusting to a new environment and transferring their skills as easily as an older child. He or she might be neat at home but find grandma’s house confusing. Ignore the mess, otherwise you will scold and nag throughout the visit. That’s not how you want to be remembered. Use a broom to push clutter out of the walk way to keep the house safe from falls. Clean up messy spills. If your toddler enjoys picking up you can sing together while you pick up the Lincoln Logs. Otherwise, let Mom and Dad teach their child to be neat, later. When the precious energy cyclone has gone back home, then you can clean in the silence to your hearts content.

2. Delegate Shifts: Grandma, you are out of practice and you get tired more easily. Take turns with Grandpa and older children so that you can lie down in a quiet room and heal your nerve endings. Even thirty minutes will help you bounce back with a smile. If you wear yourself out you could resemble a Disney witch instead of a Norman Rockwell painting of a happy family.

3. Morning Cartoons: PBS, Sprout and other stations provide a fun line-up of toddler shows like Curious George, Sesame Street and Blues Clues. Take advantage of the hypnotic state that the television creates in their impressionable minds to get yourself to the bathroom, take a shower and get dressed in shifts with your spouse.   Beware of shouting, high conflict or violent shows on regular television that may trigger copy cat behavior.

4. Develop A Routine, Any Routine: Duplicate the toddler’s normal routine whenever possible. A clever little mind might try to manipulate their normal rules with new surroundings and the absence of Mom and Dad. Spanking or yelling at a toddler is useless and only confuses them more. They want to behave well, and will respond to rewards. Punishment can create a total meltdown as they do not understand cause and effect yet, only that you just hurt them. Use praise, treats and privileges to encourage good behavior. Riding in the car or at bedtime is a good time to recount all the things the child did right today, mentally reinforcing good behavior with lavish praise and appreciation. “Grandma is so proud that you held her hand to cross the street and helped her by climbing in your car seat. What a good boy, you are. Thank you.” Ignore the mistakes and most will just go away.

5. Use The Parks: Get ye to the parks and playgrounds. Some cities have indoor museums in case of inclement weather. Keep your toddler in sight at all times, but do allow them to run, hop and spin. No one else can keep a toddler quiet or sitting still so why should you try to force behavior that is impossible at this age? Most people enjoy toddlers and are very tolerant of their exuberance. Helpful strangers are still strangers, so be cautious.

6. Naps And Bedtimes: Earplugs help to soften endless chatter, furious yells of “I am not tired,” and banging on your furniture. Some naps go really well and some are caretaker torture. Bedtime is very scary; do you remember being a child at grandmother’s house with creeks and howling wind? “I want my Mommy,” comes to mind rather quickly. Do your best to make bedtime a happy ritual, never a punishment for misbehavior. Line the bed with stuffed animals, a sippy cup and a favorite blanket, and then hope for the best. You probably can plan on a late night the first few times you attempt to get them to sleep.

7. Saved: Check in the phone book for toddler indoor play areas. Most require you to remain with the child but amazingly you can get some work done amid the din and chaos. Sit at a back table and let your grandchild discover ways to play in a safe and highly stimulating environment. He or she will fall asleep as soon as you get back home and you will get a double break.

8. Sugar: Sugar lurks in fruit juice, bread and fast food as well as candy and cereals. If you want to make it a lot easier on yourself, skip the sugary treats and carry veggies, protein and whole grains with you. Organic fish and nut oils can really help enhance a healthy brain and body for you or your toddler.

9. Time Out: The tantrums, yelling and stomping feet will happen from time to time, usually out of frustration. Help Grandpa to gain control of his temper and forgive him for losing his cool. Recognize when you or Grandpa need a time out to recover from the stress of a toddler who is trying to experience all facets of life in fifteen minutes. The crushing obligation and responsibility for the safety of your grandchild is weighty indeed. Your children trust you with their most precious gift, their child. If you need a break, take it before you lose your temper and do or say regrettable things. The toddler may not remember you are being a jerk, but your spouse will.

10. Toddler Time: Downshift your hectic life to simplified tasks. Try to accomplish only the absolute minimum during babysitting occasions. Float into toddler time, be present with them. Do not think about the past or plan the future, just be right now. Have no expectations of getting anything done except keeping company with your wild and crazy charge. Return the undamaged toddler to his or her parents and let them worry about teaching manners or discipline. The kids will scream, “Yes,” the next time their parents ask, “Do you want to go to stay with Grandma and Grandpa?”  Proudly you will smile at your spouse and whisper, “Mission accomplished.”

Read other articles and learn more about Dr. Molly Barrow.

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