I’m fortunate to have fond memories about both of my grandpas. My grandpa Larson helped me work on my checkers game on a regular basis. My grandpa Gillett gave me rides on the back of his mower on numerous occasions. They were both masters at grandparenting.

Caring for your grandchildren: How to become G.R.E.A.T. at it

Currently, I’m “grandpa” to my four-year-old grandson, Grayson. Decades from now, when he reflects on his upbringing, my hope is that he has fond memories of me too. I’m not saying that I am great at grandparenting, by any means. However, that’s my hope for the future. After giving it a little bit of thought, I’d like to suggest five ways that can help anyone move toward that very thing…becoming great at being a grandparent. What does it take to become a G.R.E.A.T. grandparent?

G: Give Generously to your grandchildren

When it comes to generosity, most people immediately think about the financial part of life. Of course, I’ve jokingly said to my wife, “We need a line item in our budget for grand parenting!”  However, in becoming great at it, when it comes to generosity, I’m thinking more about being generous with time.

It’s been said in the past that kids spell love, “t-i-m-e” and I think I’m seeing that played out with my grandson. Recently, my daughter-in-law had an appointment in the middle of the day and I volunteered to help watch our grandson during that time. When I arrived, he came bursting out of the house exclaiming, “Grandpa, you’re here to babysit me!” It wasn’t for a long stint, but it helped for a little while that day.

During our time together, I asked him if he’d like to go somewhere for a treat. At first, he was excited thinking about getting some ice cream together. However, just a few seconds later, he said, “Let’s get ice cream next time I come to your house. It’s kind of warm outside today. Let’s play superhero instead!” At this stage of life, playing superhero is his favorite activity of all.  

I donned the Spider-Man mask and cape, while he was adorned with Wolverine garb. We went on patrol to conquer the villains so that all would be well inside his home. Of course, we couldn’t forget to play hide and seek in addition, even though we were dressed to fight crime that afternoon. We played until his mom came back home, and it was time for me to go back to being an ordinary citizen. Without provocation, he thanked me for “babysitting” him that afternoon and gave me a warm hug as I left.  

As I was driving home, I thought to myself, “I think my heart may be more full today than Grayson’s.” The time invested in playing together was not just beneficial for him. I was grateful for the opportunity. A generation ago, I went down this road before, and now I realize how quickly kids grow up. If I can be generous with my time, I think that can be a win-win situation.  

R: Read and tell stories to your grandchildren

Awhile back, my grandson had a couple of books that he liked to have read to him. Over time, he could even read along with me. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt was one of his favorites. He’s 4 ½ now and during the day he’s quite busy. Getting him to sit and read is not easy. From time to time he’ll want to read a story, but it’s not as regular of an occurrence as it once was.

As his imagination continues to expand, what do we do instead? From the time that he was a toddler, we’ve told him stories. Usually, we just make them up on the fly. As he continues developing, he’s now able to help expand the plot. Recently, we’ve taken turns going back and forth in crafting a story together. Of course, we seem to have some common themes that involve flying, monsters, or even flying monsters!  

I’ve found that reading or telling stories can be a real bonding time for a grandparent. If your imagination isn’t real keen these days, how about keeping a couple of favorite books at your fingertips? 

E: Empathize regularly with your grandchildren

Do you try and get inside your grandchild’s head and see life through his or her eyes? I’d like to say that I do this on a regular basis. However, I want to be a grandpa that tells the truth! I don’t always succeed at this one.  

There are times when I see trouble coming. When my grandson starts running inside the house and gets a little out of control, I know that a wall might be contacted or a corner might come into play. The wall and the corner usually win. There is a part of me that wants to say, “I told you that if you keep running like that you’re going to get hurt.” I have said that on occasion too.

Most recently, I’ve been trying to change my ways in this area. Does a four-year-old child really grasp the concept of cause and effect? In some ways he does. In other ways, his exuberance for life gets in the way of his rational thought. This grandpa needs to be a little more sensitive, even when I’ve warned him of the “potential dangers” that are lurking.  

There have been a couple of times recently when my grandson ended up getting a bump or a bruise, and I changed my tune. I simply said, “I’m sorry. I’ll bet that really hurt. Why is that corner there anyway?” I picked him, gave him a hug, and he tried smiling through the tears.  

Empathy is defined as having the ability to recognize, understand, and share the feelings of another person. I want to be able to see life more clearly through the eyes of my grandchild. If done well, it can make me a safer grandpa for him. It can help him verbalize his thoughts and feelings as he develops. I think it can help shape his heart for the better when he sees his grandpa exhibiting a tender heart toward him. Do I have this one down? No. Am I taking some strides? Absolutely. I think there’s room for this old dog to learn a new trick.  

Are you giving generously? Do you read and tell stories? Do you empathize regularly? If so, you’re well on your way to becoming G.R.E.A.T. at grandparenting. I’ve found that the “A” is one that has brought some real rewards recently.  What is it?

A: Ask questions of your grandchildren

Of course, it’s often easy to ask simple questions that require a yes or no answer. I’m trying to ask more open-ended questions so that we can develop healthy conversations along the way.  Sometimes I’ll ask my grandson, “What do you think about…” and hear what he thinks.

When Grayson, my grandson, is asked what he thinks, or what he sees, or what he remembers, it helps him to feel valued. I care what he has to say. I love it when he remembers something that happened a little while back, and we talk about that. One Sunday morning we brought him to our church. Afterward, as we were getting in our car to go home, a friend of mine from our church accidentally started getting into our car. He immediately realized his error and said, “Oops, wrong car!” Although we were initially startled, Grayson and I thought it was hilarious.  We regularly recall that story and tell it to each other. We always end with the punchline, “Oops, wrong car!” and laugh together.  

My wife and I want him to be a regular part of the dinner conversation when we gather around the table. Most of the time it is just my wife, my grandson, and me. However, there are plenty of occasions when the rest of our family gathers around the table for a meal, and he feels comfortable enough to ask some questions on his own, and participate in the conversation.  

Recently, were in the car together, and my grandson asked me from his car seat in the back, “What do you do for a job, grandpa?” He had never asked that before. In fact, I wasn’t even sure he knew that I had a job! He sees me on my phone, in my basement office, or on my laptop from time to time, but I didn’t think he was paying much attention to that.  

I told him that I work for our church. “What do you do at the church?” he asked. I told him that part of my job is to make sure that the people on our church staff are doing all right. He added, “You mean, if someone is having surgery, you’d see if they’re doing all right?” I said, “Yeah, I’d want to make sure they’re doing all right after surgery.” He simply said, “Well, that’s good.”  

Why does my grandson ask me questions from time to time? Why does he engage in conversation at the dinner table periodically? I’d like to think it’s not just because he likes to talk (which he does), but that he’s been valued along the way, and recognizes that we care about what he thinks and what he says. Even at four years old, I think a little guy like Grayson can recognize that.

If each of these areas are part of your world, your grandkids are quite fortunate. 

T: Tell your grandchildren about Jesus

Jesus is my leader, and that’s the most important part of my life. I want my grandson to know this, and I’d love for him to say the same thing someday. I try to model a Christ-like example for Him. He may not realize what that’s all about yet, but over time, I hope that’s part of our conversation.

In the meantime, I can try and talk to him about the beauty of God’s creation. I can talk to him about heaven and how my Dad and my Mom are there, and I hope to see them again someday.  I let him know that even though they never met him, they knew about him, and they loved him before he was even born.  

When Grayson has a sleepover on a Saturday at our house, he knows that he’ll be going to church with us the next day. Over time, he’s become more comfortable going to our church and learning about Jesus. We regularly thank God before each meal and pray together in our home.  We hold hands when we pray too.  

A while back, I asked Grayson if he’d be the guy who says, “Amen” when we pray. He knows that’s his part. A couple of weeks ago, he was at our house around dinner time. My wife and I had gotten something very simple out of the pantry and began to eat at our kitchen island. He came running from another room, seeking to join us, and said, “Hey, you forgot to pray. We need to pray.” I loved hearing that from him.

There’s a children’s Bible that we have in our home. It summarizes many of the stories from Scripture and uses colorful pictures to illustrate them. Of course, a four-year-old boy is highly interested in David and Goliath! We also have acted a story or two out together. The parable of the Good Samaritan is one that we’ve done together many times. I think it’s because it involves fighting, but that’s okay with me.

At the end of the story, the Samaritan makes sure that the beaten man is taken care of. Grayson is usually in a hurry to act it out again and trade roles, or do something else by that time.  However, we try and get Jesus’ point across—take care of your neighbor. That’s what He wants each of us to do.  

I think that Jesus also wants us to try and be the best kind of grandparents that we can be.  We’re not going to get it right every time. No one does. As grandparents, we have an opportunity to help shape another generation. I have the chance to communicate how much my grandson matters. I get to love him unconditionally, much like God loves me. My hope is that he comes to realize this, and someday has the opportunity to do the same kind of thing. It’s a responsibility, and it’s also a great privilege. I’d love to be known as a G.R.E.A.T. grandparent.  What about you?

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About the Author: Steve Larson
After working in the marketplace for a number of years, Steve Larson, along with his family, moved to North Carolina to plant a new church. Over the next 15 years, the Larsons were involved in seeing several dozen new churches planted, including 2|42. It’s been 25 years since that move happened, and thousands of people have been reached for Christ by those churches. Steve currently serves on the staff at 2|42 Community Church and has a great interest in “making heaven crowded.”

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