Feature Archive

How Grandparents Can Improve Your Child's Well-Being

WebMD Feature

March 13, 2000 (Palo Alto, Calif.) -- While you'd never want to allow grandparents to spend time with your child if they're causing them harm in any way -- for example, in cases of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse -- keep in mind that under the right circumstances, grandparents can make a big difference in your child's long-term physical and emotional health. Here's how:

Loving and nurturing relationships between your child and his grandparents can be emotionally rich and rewarding: The bond that forms is critical not only to his past but to his future. Grandparents provide your child with an extra set of role models, which can be beneficial to your child's behavioral development. A grandpa who plays catch or a grandma who loves to read bedtime stories will stimulate your child's physical and intellectual skills. And don't underestimate the potential of grandparents to keep your kid on the right track: A January 1998 study published in Pediatrics found that at-risk children as young as preschool age reaped substantial behavioral and developmental benefits from strong social ties within their families and communities.

Grandparents can act as legal guardians as well as temporary caretakers in the event of a serious illness or emergency. If you become sick or disabled, you owe it to your child to find someone who will care for him as lovingly as you would. And even though lawsuits make headlines, the reality is that grandparents are playing an increasingly important role as secondary parents to children who need them. In a recent survey of 800 grandparents by the American Association of Retired Persons, 82% reported that they'd seen a grandchild in the past month -- a surprising figure, given today's often frenetic work and family schedules. Nationwide, the number of children being raised by their grandparents now totals nearly 4 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Given the recent breakthroughs in genetic research, a knowledge of your child's grandparent's health history -- as well as that of first-degree relatives such as parents, aunts, and uncles -- can help determine if your child has an increased risk for a host of hereditary diseases. Common hereditary illnesses include Huntington's disease, muscular dystrophy, sickle cell anemia, Tay-Sachs disease, and cystic fibrosis. A grandparent's health history also is important in determining if your child is at risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes , cancer, and heart disease. Knowing that her grandmother has had breast cancer, for example, can help your daughter to make the kinds of lifestyle choices that could minimize her risk of developing this type of cancer, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, and avoiding smoking.

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