Grandparents provide so much value beyond free babysitting. Research has found that the grandparent and grandchild relationship benefits both sides involved. There’s a reason why this dynamic is so important to anyone fortunate enough to experience it. They bring a whole new dimension to each other’s lives — a dimension even the best of parents can’t fulfill. In other words, grandparents are essential, and here is how they can positively impact a child’s life.
Grandparents Are Essential, According to Recent Studies
Close grandparents are often present in a strong family dynamic, but they come with their own perks. For instance, a study from Boston College found that close relationships between grandparents and adult grandchildren lowered symptoms of depression for both of them. 
Additionally, this inter-generational dynamic can teach and expose both sides to different ideas and skills.
“Grandparents have a wealth of experience — they’ll often tell stories about their lives and how things worked when they were young, and once kids become adults, they’re able to maximize those lessons,” said Moorman, a researcher in the Boston College study.
A study including children aged 11–16 found a benefit for younger grandkids. Those close with their grandparents tended to have fewer emotional, behavioral, and social difficulties. Grandparents are essential for reducing the impact of painful events like dealing with bullies and parents divorcing. 
This built-in support system could make all the difference in a child’s development.
“Parents should be aware of their role as gatekeepers in the relationship between their children and their parents,” said researcher Shalhevet Attar-Schwartz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “They should also be aware of grandparents’ potential to be an important resource in their children’s lives, especially if the family is undergoing a change, such as a divorce or a remarriage, or if the child is undergoing a painful or challenging experience… Sometimes children feel that it is easier to open up to their grandparents and share their difficulties and dilemmas with them.” 
Grandkids Are Essential Too
On the flip side, taking care of grandchildren every week could boost the grandparents’ brain function. A study from 2014 found that childcare helped verbal fluency in their grandparents.  Additionally, a study from the Journal of the North American Menopause Society found that older women who babysat their grandkids weekly had the highest cognitive score. That’s a good sign for a demographic at risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders. Interestingly, those who babysat five days or more a week tended to have reduced working memories and thought-processing speed. 
There’s also the physical benefit of chasing after toddlers. “We have noticed that grandparents who are involved in grandchildren’s, or surrogate grandchildren’s lives, are more active,” said Cleveland Clinic family medicine physician Neha Vyas, M.D. “They are entering their elderly years without as many aches and pains because they have something that keeps them young and keeps them mobile.”
Support, Wisdom, and Fun
There’s also the third edge to the grandparent-grandchild relationship triangle: the parents. And they benefit as well. For one, having close grandparents creates a support system, easing the stress and burden of child-rearing. Not to mention having kids with fewer emotional and behavioral problems, as mentioned above.
Nothing beats a face-to-face visit, but video-calls and phone calls are a great way to keep the bond going. And if the grandparents live far away, Dr. Vyas encourages them to keep pictures of them around the house.
“It’s important to have lots of pictures – not just in the digital realm – but to print out those pictures and have them around your house, so that grandchildren can see what their grandparents look like and to have that exposure on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
However, whenever possible, take the kids on a trip to grandma and grandpa’s house. Aside from the essential grandparent relationship, the children are bound to learn something new. “There is some unconditional love between grandparents and grandchildren, and when they go to grandma and grandpa’s house, the rules may change, and that’s okay,” said Dr. Vyas. “As long as they’re temporary. Kids are good at compartmentalizing and realizing that there may be some rules that apply in one person’s house, and other rules that apply in their parents’ house.” 
If it’s possible to cultivate a relationship between the grandparents and the grandkids — do it! There will be more people to love and support your kids. And, as your parents grow old, there will be more people to love and support them. Grandchildren and grandparents are essential for each other and you. Everybody wins.
- “Solidarity in the Grandparent–Adult Grandchild Relationship and Trajectories of Depressive Symptoms.” The Gerontologist. Sara M. Moorman, PhD, Jeffrey E. Stokes, MA. June 2016.
- “Grandparents contribute to children’s wellbeing.” University of Oxford. Professor Ann Buchanan. 2014
- “Study: Close grandparent-grandchild relationships have healthy benefits.” Boston Globe. Ami Albernaz. December 13, 2015.
- “Does Grandparenting Pay Off? The Effect of Child Care on Grandparents’ Cognitive Functioning.” Journal of Marriage and Family. Bruno Arpino, Valeria Bordone. March 4, 2014.
- “Grandmas stay sharp when they care for grandkids once a week.” The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). April 8, 2014
- “Close Relationship with Grandparents Benefits Everyone.” Cleveland Clinic. September 5, 2019