Love the grandkids – but how much?

A Robert De Niro movie sheds light on a time-honoured family bond and raises some naughty questions about grandpas too.

We love our grandkids, and as the saying goes – you can just hand them back when you’ve had enough!

Yes, they are adorable, and it is just so easy to shower them with goodies and praise. There is nothing sadder than a little face wet with tears and scrunched up with sadness. They deserve everything you can give them, right?

A movie that screened over Christmas, ‘The War with Grandpa’, gave us a good laugh. Deliberately or not, it asks questions about grandparenting today. Having viewed the movie, can we ever go back to what we have believed to be a natural and unalterable relationship?

Maybe we can now start talking realistically about the overly sugar-coated grandparent-grandkid connection. In 2020, how much should a grandparent give?

The movie plot

Peter is thrilled grandpa is coming to live with his family. That is, until grandpa moves into Peter's room, forcing him upstairs into the creepy attic. And though he loves his grandpa he wants his room back - so he has no choice but to declare war. With the help of his friends, Peter devises outrageous plans to make grandpa surrender the room. But grandpa is tougher than he looks. Rather than give in, grandpa plans to get even.

Robert De Niro plays Ed, the grandpa.

In praise of grandchildren

The idea that non-stop praise will boost self-esteem and help grandchildren succeed is being reconsidered. In fact, given what we now know, you may want to avoid over-the-top praise of your grandchildren.

American research discovered that high self-esteem did not automatically lead to better grades, future career achievement, or even lower rates of alcoholism or violence. Praise can have negative effects — overdoing it can diminish effort and make some children self-centered.

Today’s consensus thinking, as articulated by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and others, offers a new model: When seeking to motivate kids, limit the praise, and keep your focus on the effort. Just a few minor tweaks in the way you address grandchildren can turn empty praise into productive encouragement. Whether a child has painted a picture, mastered bike riding, or moved to the head of the class, stand ready to acclaim their efforts rather than simply telling them they’re the best.

Here are some examples of how to build confidence in those you love.

1. Your grandchild has done something on their own for the first time — such as using the potty or dressing themselves.

Old praise: “You are so special!” “What a clever girl you are!”

New encouragement: “Aren’t you proud of yourself? You should be!”

WHY? This teaches your grandchild to internalise their abilities and to evaluate themselves accurately rather than expecting everything to come easily because adults say they are special.

2. Your grandchild shows you their very good school report card.

Old praise: “You’re brilliant.” “You’re so smart!”

New encouragement: “Wow, you must have worked very hard.”

WHY? Reinforcing the effort allows the child to feel in control of what they can accomplish. Recent research confirms that children who are repeatedly told that they are exceptional, gifted, or very bright often don’t try as hard. They get a false perception of what they can achieve and begin to fear making mistakes and losing their status.

3. A grandchild gives you a drawing or other piece of art they made.

Old praise: “You’re a great artist!” “Nobody does that better than you!”

New encouragement: “How did you make that?” “I love how it’s so cheerful.” “How did you make those lines?”

WHY? When you ask about the process or praise the result, you direct a child to think about how he created his work and what new approach he might try next time. In short, you praise the artwork, not the child.

4. Your grandchild succeeds after long effort or struggle, perhaps by pulling themselves up on the parallel bars, finishing a large puzzle, or putting their head underwater to swim.

Old praise: “Perfect!” “Sensational!” “That’s our boy!”

New encouragement: “I like how hard you tried.” “You proved you should never give up!”

WHY? Children know when they haven’t picked up a new skill as quickly as they might have. If you praise a less-than-perfect performance in too-glowing terms, children start to think they don’t necessarily have to do better or try harder. Instead, they come to feel they are entitled to praise no matter what they do.