A Grandparent’s Guide to Grandchildren’s Health

Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want picture embodies the nostalgia so many of us feel each holiday season.  Every time I see that picture, images flash quickly between that image to my own grandparents’ kitchens.  Indeed, my grandparents played a huge role in my life growing up especially around large family functions. But compared to the involvement my parents have with my children, there is a dramatic qualitative difference.

My grandparents were almost spectators and our constant cheering section but knew little of the particulars of our lives. My children’s grandparents, like many of you, have a much more active role and pinch hit for me and my husband often.  So, they need to know all the details. Some details like homework and after school activities are not hard to figure out but health care is a different story. The world of pediatrics has changed so greatly since we were children that grandparents need a quick primer to catch up their databanks.

Here’s a run down of the most important health care and safety changes over the past century:

  • Most of the diseases you recall as a child are all but eradicated: polio, measles, mumps, even chicken pox. This is all due to the amazing advances in immunizations.
  • TB was rampant when you were a youth; today it is controllable and treatable.
  • Our communities are cleaner with better public water supplies and sewage treatment. This has greatly decreased the amount of intestinal disorders you may recall many infants and small children succumbing to.
  • We were give antibiotics for everything and nowadays they are used very sparingly. We now know that too much antibiotics fosters resistance, and that most illnesses kids get are viral.
  • Like you, we had a great deal of unstructured playtime as children, yet our kids after-school lives allow very little. New studies are actually proving what you knew, kids need to play – just because. So the tide may be turning back on this important issue.
  • We didn’t have TV, the internet and all this technology to the extent our kids now have. This is a blessing and a curse. Increased screen time is directly linked to childhood obesity and many shows expose kids to inappropriate material for their ages.
  • We used to sleep on our tummies. Now we know that SIDS is greatly reduced if babies sleep on their backs.
  • Infant seats were not common when we were young and are now mandatory.
  • We rode bikes without helmets, as did you! Now we know the importance of protecting the brain during riding sports.
  • Girls are involved in many more activities compared to when we were younger such as sports and cultural enrichment activities.
  • We were all in walkers when babies, now we know they are not so great.
  • More families have dual-income parents so kids are often cared for in afte rschool programs or by nannies.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Every aspect of pediatric care has advanced from neonatology to the treatment of cancer. In many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Raising kids still involves patience, love and a healthy sense of humor. And, despite what we may all want to think now that we are “adults”, you still hold the biggest trump card of them all: stories of your own kids’ childhoods to share with our kids to remind us that the apple does not fall too far from the tree, even if the tree is growing in a bit of a different way.  In that regard, the most important elements of Freedom From Want will always be timeless.

If you care for your grandchild(ren) often, there are some things you should know regarding their health and safety:

  • Name and phone number of their pediatrician and dentist
  • List of allergies and medications
  • Insurance information
  • Parents contact information (travel plans, cell phones, email)
  • A letter giving you permission to seek emergency medical care

If you are helping with after-school care, try and stick to the same schedule the kids have when you are not there. Helpful information to know includes:

  • School location and teacher names
  • Typical homework schedule
  • After-school schedule
  • Timing of dinner and bedtime
  • Special routines to be aware of

Discipline could be trick since you are not “the parent.”   Having an agreed upon set of rules that your grandchildren know they have to follow will help all of you when faced with a discipline issue. You could even draw up a contract.

(Originally posted October 2006; Updated December 2009)

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