First Hand Emotions Support Your Grandchild’s Development

Last week Saulie, my 2 1/2-year-old grandson, turned toward me as he floated away snuggled in his mother’s arms and said, “Bye, love.” (Melt.) Then, in what seemed like a nanosecond, he wrapped his arms around his body and moved them in a side-to-side motion, signaling a pretend hug that only 2-year-olds know how to give. (Melt. Melt.)

Hearing “Bye, love” and seeing that pretend hug was somehow a defining moment for me: I knew in that instant that I felt as loved as I ever have or would. Then, out of the blue somehow, Tina Turner’s song “What’s Love Got to Do with It” slipped into my mind. For Turner, if you recall, love was “a secondhand emotion.” Maybe so for young love, but for grandparents, love precedes our grandchildren’s entry into the world and, from the start, is unconditional and offered lavishly. As it turns out, research is showing us how important emotional development and social interaction are to our grandchildren’s well-being.

A healthy developmental milestone between 18 and 30 months is the ability to “create emotional ideas” (from Building Healthy Minds, a book by Stanley Greenspan, 2000). This means that at this age, children should be able to communicate feelings and engage in emotional interaction. As I read about this in Greenspan’s book, I thought, “Bye, love,” and of Saul’s typical jumping up and down upon the sight of me coming to pick him up, and I felt a keen sense of pride happiness.

When Saul was first born, my firsthand emotion, my unconditional love and awe, evoked a smile from him sometimes, or a gurgle—certainly not love—but over time that smile of his, I’m sure, has turned from a simple response to true love, at least one type. In some sense, this is probably true for you, as well. Hence, we ultimately get the stuff of “Bye, love,” or that excited behavior they exhibit upon sighting us. And we know full well that for these gifts—for they are gifts—love has got everything to do with it.

We grandparents have a brand-new position, don’t we? We can concentrate on giving to grandchildren what we know they need and want most, if not all the time: we take them to the park to play, to the zoo, for a walk down the street. And we read them stories about being loved, stories before bedtime to ease their reluctance, stories that use specific vocabulary for things they want to learn about, and stories that help them understand their emotions.

Friends often ask me, “What stories do you read to Saul?” So, here’s one of my “Bye, love” booklists—just in time for Valentine’s Day.

For read-aloud tips (such as “Let your grandchild tell the story. Children as young as 3 can memorize a story, and many love an opportunity to express their creativity”), visit www. parenthood.com.

Ruth Nathan, Ph.D., grandmother to Saulie, is currently also a member of the LeapFrog Educational Advisory Board, a reading research specialist at UC Berkeley and the author of many books and chapters about literacy.

Originally Published on GRAND Magazine in January-February 2007 Issue

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