Are You Playing Favorites With Your Grandchildren?

African descent grandmother and grandchild gardening in outdoor vegetable garden in spring or summer season. Cute little girl enjoys planting new flowers and vegetable plants.

Keeping everybody happy when there is more than one grandchild takes political genius. But you need to try your hand at it, even if your grandchildren don’t know a Democrat from a Republican.

Trust us, their parents are keeping score, and it’s generally the first grandchild who gets the lion’s share of attention. But how do you make sure you’re spreading the love fairly?

How to play fair – and show it

Begin by observing your own behavior with each grandchild. Remember: You tried your best not to favor any of your children, but maybe you ended up giving the most attention to the child who was most adept at getting it. Is the same thing happening now?

Children, as you know, are experts from day one at letting you know that they require: attention, food and more. Your job is to meet their needs by learning from the cues they provide. For example, infants often fuss to get noticed, and they love it when you pick them up and carry them around. They need to be learning to trust that you’ll be there for them, and your picking them won’t spoil them, it builds that trust.

Toddlers have two types of attention-getting behaviors: good and bad. Unfortunately, many of us take more note of the bad and, as a result, there’s more of it. When there is more than one child, you may see the “good kid” vs. “bad kid” game; when one is being angelic, the other might decide he has no choice but to be a devil. Which one gets noticed more? (Hint: Which one are you reprimanding?)

Spread the praise

When you’re around your grandchildren, the key to spreading attention is to catch them being good. That means you have to develop a habit of praising their good behavior when you see it, with the praise always labeling the behavior, not the child. For example: “You are playing so nicely with your toys,” or “Thank-you for helping pick up your toys.” As a result of this positive reinforcement, you will not only win their allegiance, but also they will quickly learn to behave well in your presence. And you’ll find yourself spreading the love more fairly.

When you aren’t with your grandchildren, find out about their accomplishments – no matter how small – and pay attention to them through e-mails and pictures that their parents can share with them. Even if you think your grandchild won’t understand what your e-mail says, you become present in her life when her parents read her your words.