Grandparents Can Provide a Critical Need: Attention

WANTED: Cheerleader extraordinaire. Applicant need not be nimble or boisterous. Ability to boost morale and offer unconditional support a must. Generous intangible benefits. Grandparents encouraged to apply.

Times may have changed since you raised your children. If your grandchildren are like many kids today, they're busy with after-school programs, sports, music lessons, dance classes and a host of other activities. The good news is that these activities give you the opportunity to cheer your grandchildren on and give them something they want and need: your attention.

"Going to games and other events is a formal way for grandparents to show their love and support," says Don Schmitz, founder and director of The Grandkidsandme Foundation. "Getting involved helps grandparents build stronger relationships with their grandkids and their adult children."

No special skills

Being a cheerleader for your grandchildren doesn't require any special training. All you need to invest is some time and energy to become their biggest fan.

Attending soccer games, school programs or other events is a concrete way of showing that you think your grandchildren are important and that they're doing something of value. Your presence will mean even more to your grandchildren if their parents can't attend activities because of work or other commitments.

"When grandparents attend their grandkids' events, it shows their grandchildren that people in the world care about them," says Mr. Schmitz. "And a stamp of approval from grandparents helps build kids' self esteem and their belief in themselves."

If you don't live near your grandchildren, you can still play a supportive role. Ask them about their activities. Find out if they made the team or how their team did in the big game. Send e-mails or cards to congratulate them for special accomplishments.

Share your wisdom

Whether you live close by or follow your grandchildren's progress from a distance, their activities give you a chance to share your wisdom and experience. Let your grand-children know that no one wins or succeeds all the time. Let them know you love and approve of them even if they don't get the highest grade, score a goal, get the lead in the school play or win the state championship.

Use adversity to teach your grandchildren lessons about working hard to learn new skills, being a loyal member of a team, losing with dignity, having a good attitude and not giving up. Ask your grandchildren how they feel when things don't go the way they hoped. Share your own experiences with disappointment. Parents may say the same things, but grandchildren sometimes hear the message better when it comes from grandma or grandpa.

Although your grandchildren will reap big benefits from your concern and interest in their lives, don't be surprised if you gain from the experience as well. Many grandparents relish their role as cheerleaders and find that they enjoy the events and the camaraderie they develop with their adult children, grandchildren and even other spectators.