Dear Grandparenting: There’s not a doubt in my mind that my daughter-in-law tries to be a good mother to my grandson, Mark, who is 8. My problem is how she goes about it. For the last year or so she is on this kick about buying toys and play activities she thinks will help get Mark into a good college. My grandson’s room is piled full of this stuff. But I notice Mark doesn’t spend much time in his room. He sits quietly at the table where my daughter-in-law works and goes through his school work or thumbs through magazines and books looking at pictures and whatever.
A big reason why my daughter-in-law buys this stuff is that she brings home extra work from her job that needs doing at night. My son works until 9 p.m. every night. They must feel guilty about neglecting Mark. I hesitate to stick my nose into their business. If you ask me, my grandson seems bored. Any ideas about how to help? Sis, Everett, Washington
Dear Sis: Your grandson could be doing a whole lot worse. The majority of grandchildren in his situation would have developed a television or video game habit, a time sink that doesn’t enhance cognitive or social skills. Yours is the dutiful grandson who models the family work ethic, side by side with his mother. He’s off to a good start.
But we understand your concern. Your daughter-in-law appears to have adopted a hit-or-miss toy-buying strategy, and most are misses that don’t hold your grandson’s interest. Products that claim to boost IQ — toys and games, software and educational programs — are a big business, but often without real merit. Even for busy parents, there are better ways to feed such an inquiring young mind.
Children who become happy readers have a big head start on the learning curve. You’re never bored with a good book at hand. A nightly investment of 20-30 minutes devoted to reading with your grandson — not to him — will pay huge dividends. Insist the child focus on printed words, not pictures. Encourage the parents to take your grandson to the children’s section of the local library, allowing ample time to browse.
The trick lies in paying attention to what excites your grandson, then encouraging him to pursue his passions. The simple act of engaging children in discussion pushes them along cognitively. Asking open-ended “what if” questions stimulates thought and problem-solving ability, and demonstrates that their opinion matters.
But is a little boredom really such a terrible thing? Grandchildren with every toy imaginable can find themselves paralyzed by too many choices, and become bored. Unstructured time, when a grandchild’s imagination is let loose to roam or dream big dreams, is the very essence of real life. Without experiencing unstructured time, grandchildren will never learn how to manage it.
GRAND REMARK OF THE WEEK
Alex from Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, says his five grandchildren “are a great comfort in my old age. And they’re helping me get there faster too!”
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.