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Planning Retirement Online

Grandparents do make a difference - 23

July 2011


Each month we bring you this special column on grandparenting written by our expert contributor Jeanne Davis.  


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If you are in a position to help your grandchildren with their studies you will be rewarded many times over. There is no greater satisfaction than knowing you have contributed to their well-being and helped shape a contributing member of society. You are fortunate. There are so many grandparents who don’t get the chance to see their grandchildren much, let alone work with them.

Stepping In

Helen W., a recently retired teacher, and grandmother of seven, has these thoughts to offer. “The first requirement, right through the learning years is time. This applies to the tinies, when it is doing the reading and generally talking to them, through the listening when they want to show off their own reading skills. Later on it is the basic listening to spellings and multiplication tables – things that their parents would normally do. But nowadays time is often at a premium and these are the sort of tasks that can be left to the end of the day when everyone is tired and inclined to be emotional.

When secondary schooling starts there is cause to be a little more careful. The nature of the subjects and the way they are taught is constantly in the process of change, and it is very important not to create confusion. Study guides are very common now and these can be easily used by adults to ‘test’ the children and you can be sure of following the set syllabus.

When it comes to written work, it is often good for the grandparent to read through and perhaps make suggestions. The advantage here is that there is less emotional strain than there would be with the parents (everyone knows you cannot teach your own children – I speak whereof I know!) and so many children may well find it easier to expose their work to (very gentle) criticism from grandparents.

There is also an advantage in being able to offer a slightly distant opinion. It may be that the question will have been discussed amongst the close family and it is good to have a fresh look at the work.

The fact that there is a difference between parents and grandparents can be a help. In my experience the youngsters are more willing to work with me than have a showdown with their parents. Possibly they are just being considerate of age, perhaps they know that I am going to leave, so they can take my suggestions even if they intend to ignore them subsequently.

Back to the listening role. I firmly believe that children should be allowed to express their opinion even if it is patently daft, or perhaps merely trotting out what they have heard someone else say. One can gently suggest an alternative, but they need to flex their mental muscles over topics of the day.”

Holding Back

Keep calm. Try to be as patient as you can and guide them rather than nag them. It will be easier for you both. Try to avoid confrontation over homework. You are, after all a grandparent and not a tutor!

Do not make the session overlong. Learning deteriorates after a period of time. Some will lag after a half hour, some will last an hour.

If you know they have got it wrong don’t tell them the right answer, simply ask them how they got that answer and see if they spot a mistake. Try not to do the homework for them because in the long run, the teacher will know.

Don’t be a show off with your knowledge. You are not a participant in a game of Trivial Pursuit or a contestant in a quiz show. But there are some times when you could use your specialist knowledge. Helen did help her eldest grandson with his A level French. He did do the past papers on his own. Helen then reviewed the work. Because, as a former French teacher, she could bring to it her experience.

If the A level is not your subject, then there are revision guides you can use which are factual. You can check the facts and not your opinion, for instance, in history, science or geography.

Advice on Higher Education and Careers. “Don’t be too prescriptive,” says Bernard H., a grandfather of four. “Times have changed. You can be of most use as a sounding board to discuss priorities and parameters to consider.”


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