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Each child deserves individual attention. Let her know she is special all by herself. Emphasize what makes her so special — the colour of her eyes, her double-jointed thumb, even the way she loves to watch birds. When you ask a child to wait until her brother is finished speaking or playing with you, remind her she is just as special as he is and you want to give her every bit of your attention when it’s her turn.

Feeling special builds security. Every child needs to feel safe within herself so she can move on to trust the world around her. Only by truly understanding how special she is can she learn as an independent self.

Do you remember the joy on your child’s face when she took her first steps? That is the joy of competency — the feeling of satisfaction from a job well done. Once a child feels emotionally secure, she can begin her journey toward autonomy. You can share the joy of your grandchild’s first steps in the real world. Not only are you proud of her accomplishments, you are also partly responsible for her success. By making her feel special, you enable her to conquer the world. That makes you pretty special, too.

When a New Baby Arrives

Do not rush to the new baby! Restrain yourself. The baby will not remember this, but big brother will. He might very well punish you for behaving so badly. He might ignore you or withhold his affection. You’ll have to be patient to win him back, and it won’t be easy. Instead, love up Number One. Emphasize what a wonderful big brother your grandson is, and how lucky his baby sister is to have him. Hug him, kiss him, give him a special “I’m a big brother” T-shirt. Then go ahead and coo over the baby!

Sibling Rivalry

Don’t let siblings compete for your attention. Let them know you have unlimited interest in each one of them, and taking turns lets you concentrate especially on them. Be careful when you give presents. For older children, make sure that your gifts complement their individual interests. That way each child knows you are paying attention and you care specifically about him or her. With younger children, similar or matching gifts are best to prevent any comparisons to discover whom you like best. Competition can be healthy, but not when it comes to love.

Connecting Creatively

You can enjoy an imaginative relationship with your grandchild in many ways. One way is to allow them the freedom to make choices about things when no one correct answer exists. For instance, you can let them choose what to have for lunch. With younger children, simplify their decision-making by limiting their options. Feel free to suggest such funny food combinations as a peanut butter-spaghetti sauce sandwich. With older children, let them make the most out of this freedom by helping you make that peanut butter-spaghetti sauce sandwich. If the sandwich is truly ghastly, they won’t eat it. If it’s actually edible, they can catch up on their nutrition plan later. Either way they’ll love you for indulging their imaginations.

Another way to use creativity in your relationship is to play make-believe games. Salvage those old clothes you can’t part with, and maybe some of those you can’t wait to part with. Keep them in a trunk for the children’s visits or send them off to their house. Not only will dress-up be fun, but it will remind them of you every time they play. Now, you might be thinking, “I’m not so self-centreed that the children have to always be thinking of me.” The truth is, thinking about you is healthy for them. As their grandma or grandpa, you represent security, roots, and a positive connection to something larger than themselves. Maybe they’ll make believe they are you!

Going with the Flow

If you’ve planned something for the children’s fun, yet they’re enjoying something else on the way, why make them stop? If they’re having a wonderful time picking up every twig and leaf on their slow-motion walk, why make them hurry up to have fun someplace else? If lunch at Red Robin turns out to be a hit, does missing the Children’s Museum matter? If the only one who cares is you, let it go. Maybe you’ll be creating a warm and unexpected memory together that you’ll talk about often, and that’s the important thing.

Going with the flow also applies to toys. Just because the manufacturer had something specific in mind doesn’t mean your grandchild should. As long as the toy has some sort of play value and the child is enjoying it, applaud the creative approach. Who says the coloured rings must fit over the post? For now, maybe your grandchild has more fun teething on them, lining them up in a row, or throwing them like Frisbees. Feel free to demonstrate how nicely they do stack on the post, in case it’s not apparent, but let the child take over from there. Go with the flow.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician