Looking after grandchildren: things to think about

If you’re a grandparent living near your grandchild, it’s likely that you’ll be asked to look after your grandchild from time to time. Like many other grandparents, you might also be asked to provide more regular child care for your grandchild.

When you’re thinking about looking after your grandchild, you probably have a few things to take into accountBeing a grandparent is just one part of your life. It’s likely that you’re balancing the needs of your grandchild with other things like housework, paid work, caring for your own parents and time for yourself.

On the other hand, when you spend time with your grandchild, you can bond together and be part of his development. Helping your grandchild’s parents is a great way to deepen relationships with them too.

If your grandchild’s parents can’t care for him, you might become a grandparent carer. This situation has its challenges, but many bonuses too.

When you’re asked to look after your grandchild

How you handle a request to look after or do child care for your grandchild depends a lot on how you get along with your grandchild’s parents.

Here are some tips to help you agree on child care arrangements:

  • Honesty and openness is a good place to start the discussion. For example, if you’re not sure that you can manage one long day each week, let your grandchild’s parents know what you are willing to do – ‘I can’t do 7 am to 6 pm, but I can do an afternoon each week’.
  • Planning for sickness and holidays right from the start is a good idea. You could talk about back-up care for when you or your grandchild are sick, and when you’re away on holiday.
  • Sometimes these discussions can get heated. If this happens, it might be best to suggest talking about things when you’re both feeling calm.
  • Parents have a lot to juggle – work, family, relationships and more. Sometimes they feel like they’re not managing. If your grandchild’s parents are desperate for a break from your grandchild and you can’t help, you might be able to suggest other options. For example, ‘Have you asked Julie’s parents?’ or ‘Perhaps you could make an arrangement with other parents from mothers group to take turns looking after each other’s children?’
  • If you’re looking after your grandchild or doing child care, it might help you to know about your grandchild’s usual routine and rules. Asking your grandchild’s parents before you make changes shows respect for these rules and routines.
  • If you’re looking after your grandchild in your own home, it’s OK to have your own house rules. For example, ‘Don’t go outside by yourself’.
  • If looking after your grandchild late at night is affecting your rest, staying at your grandchild’s house, or having your grandchild sleep over at your house, might be a solution.
If your grandchild has special needs, our article on family, friends and autism spectrum disorder has information and ideas on how you might be able to help by being part of a family support network.

Your feelings

You might be delighted to provide child care or look after your grandchild. Some grandparents say that doing child care gives them time to play with, and enjoy, their grandchild.

Other grandparents don’t want to do regular child care. Or distance, health, work or other commitments might mean you just can’t. But you might still want to spend time with your grandchild and support your grandchild’s parents in other ways.

If this sounds like you, you could talk with your grandchild’s parents about your role as a grandparent and their expectations about child care. You might even be able to help them look for other child care options.

Sometimes it gets a bit over the top. Last week I did five days with the grandchildren. I was tired by the end of the week and I was ready for a day off.
– Denise, grandmother of three

Common issues to discuss

Going on holidays
Sometimes grandparents find that looking after grandchildren makes it difficult for them to go away on holiday. If you’re planning a break, giving your grandchild’s parents plenty of notice can be a big help to them – it might be hard to replace you!

They could hire a nanny, ask friends or other family members, or take time off work. It could also be a good time for your grandchild’s family to take a holiday.

Managing your grandchild’s behaviour
Managing your grandchild’s behaviour might sometimes be a challenge, and ideas about children’s behaviour might have changed since your children were young. You can find lots of practical and positive tips in our article on encouraging good behaviour.

If you’re concerned about your grandchild, you might need to talk about it with your grandchild’s parents. For example, you could ask your grandchild’s parents what strategies they find useful when their child behaves in a challenging way. Conversations about children’s behaviour can be tricky, so staying calm and letting parents know that you weren’t sure what to do is a good idea.

Discipline and your grandchild
You might want to give advice to your grandchild’s parents about disciplining your grandchild, but this isn’t your role. Making decisions about discipline is the right and responsibility of your grandchild’s parents.

It’s best to ask your grandchild’s parents how they would like you to handle discipline situations and follow their lead. Also, if you want to bend the rules, ask if it’s OK. A simple, ‘Do you mind if I let her stay up a bit later?’, or ‘Can I give him some lollies if he’s good?’ can help to avoid misunderstandings.

Money matters
Most grandparents aren’t paid for looking after grandchildren, but it can be expensive. Food, transport and keeping your grandchild entertained can all add up. You can talk with your grandchild’s parents about providing some money – for example, from government parenting payments – to help with costs.

When it comes to entertaining kids, it doesn’t have to cost the earth. Often, you can turn ordinary things around the house into homemade toys and free activities and have just as much fun.