Blue vacuum cleaner

Vacuum cleaner

Every time a grandchild visits, as our grandson did last week, I am reminded of the parenting strategies that still work, in the face of the many ways parenting has changed.

Though sleeping on backs instead of tummies, sitting in car seats until the age of eight, and entertaining themselves with DVDs makes it look like everything about parenting has changed, much has not.

Here are three examples:

Slow response.

When a child asks for help with something they are trying to figure out, it is an automatic response.

They have learned that if they get stuck, they can always ask you for help and you will probably already know how to do it or figure it out quickly.

However, responding as soon as they ask for help does not give them time to figure it out themselves. Waiting even a few seconds, if not a few minutes, because “Just a minute; I’m busy” is often just the pause and frustration tamping they need to figure it out themselves.

If they really need help, you are near by. But, a child’s natural reaction is to keep trying to figure it out while they are waiting for you. What a gift of confidence you give them when you pause before responding.


Five must be the age when children figure out that they might be able to get away with not washing their hands after using the bathroom, because “they forgot.”

I have given my grandchildren the secrets I use to know if they have washed their hands or not, because my photo book for them this year is on Signals. My signals for knowing whether they have washed their hands are: 1) I hear the water running 2) their hands are still wet even after they have used a towel to dry them.

By next year, they will probably figure out they can mimic the signals and still not wash their hands, but, I hope, by then, it will be a habit they no longer try to get out of.

Follow-through, making sure a child does what you told them to, is the way a child learns self-discipline. Its corollary, only asking them to do things you are willing to check to make sure they did, is how they know you mean it when you tell them to do something.

Urge to help

Children are trying to learn how to be you. They are keen observers and want to do what you are doing.

It can be annoying. It certainly makes any task take three times as long. My mother was so annoyed by housework she could not bear to let it take three times as long by allowing us to help when we were little.

By junior high, I was trusted with vacuuming the carpets. By high school, she felt her duties as a mother required that she give me a five-minute lesson on how to clean a toilet. Otherwise, she did the housework when we weren’t home.

With my grandchildren, I take joy in the patience required to let them help me sweep, or take out the trash or vacuum or clean a bathroom.

My grandson now knows what happens when my long hair stops the rollers on the vacuum cleaner and how to fix it before the rubber belt burns out.

He knows where every wastebasket is that has to be emptied. He rushes to take his broom down from the wall to sweep up the Moon Sand he has been playing with. He loves getting the sponge wet to wipe down the bathroom sink.

Eventually, children do learn how to do things right, just about the time they are no longer fascinated by helping you. But, you will have missed the journey if you don’t encourage their excitement about learning how to be you.

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To your most precious grandchildren, and your opportunities to help them grow into the fine adults their parents are.

Carol Covin, “Granny-Guru”

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers”

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