Advice for grandparents
Children lucky enough to grow up knowing their grandparents mostly find it an enriching relationship. Your grandchild might see you as a person with whom they can have fun, and you have all the pleasure of being with children without the responsibilities of being a parent. Many grandparents tell us that this has helped them learn more about disability and strengthened all the family relationships.
The tips on this page will help you support your grandchild and their parents. You might also find this page useful if you're a friend or other relative of a parent with a disabled children.
Supporting your grandchild's parents
- Listen to the parents and believe what they tell you about their child.
- Praise and encourage, and not just when things are going well. It is when life is difficult that a reminder of what has been achieved is particularly welcome.
- Spend the first five minutes of your visit giving attention to your grandchild's siblings. Take them out while their parents look after their brother or sister.
- If you're not sure how you can help, start with the small things: making a meal, doing shopping or babysitting so the parents can take a break.
- Help parents deal with social care services by babysitting while they focus on phone calls, taking notes at meetings or helping to fill in forms.
- If your grandchild is physically disabled, you could try helping with therapy. Build up your confidence by dropping into a therapy session first.
- Be aware of times that are particularly stressful for parents. These include being without a diagnosis, finding the right school and having treatments.
- Don't assume that information about entitlements and rights will automatically be given to the parents - do some research.
- Try to find information about your grandchild's condition. This will mean there is one less person that the parents have to explain things to.
Helping your disabled grandchild
- Treat him or her as an individual. A child with additional needs has the same need for acceptance, love and attention as any other child.
- Try not to make comparisons. Your grandchild may not be picked for the school football team or reach Grade 7 piano, but they are putting in as much effort. They will gain immeasurably from praise and encouragement.
- Develop a unique relationship. It might be going to a cafe or reading together, or learning a skill like swimming. This kind of attention will be a real boost.
- Don't forget brothers and sisters - they need attention to. Read our tips on supporting siblings.
Tips for grandparents from grandparents
We asked some grandparents to share their experiences - here are their tips:
- Be led by the parents; they will tell you what they need.
- Appreciate that there will be times when your advice won't be listened to - it's nothing personal.
- Try not to give opinions when the parents are upset.
- Sometimes parents need someone to let off steam to - be patient and listen.
- Spend time with the other grandchildren in the family.
- Acceptance of your grandchild's disability may take a while for you and their parents, so be understanding.
- When the parents are involved in the practical matters it's best for you to focus on the child and not their diagnosis.
As the child grows up
"I think that the time when a young person's difficulties and worries may become more obvious to him or herself, may be the very time when they are more reluctant to draw attention to themselves, therefore problems are often overlooked, causing even more anxiety for the young person."
Disabled children become young people and then disabled adults. They don't grow out of the condition. In fact you could say that they grow into it. The challenges they face not only don't go away, they in fact become more complex. At first glance they may appear to be fine, but they still need continued support and understanding. You can read more about this in our section on sex, relationships and growing up.
All this means that you can still have a very valuable role to play. This could be by taking the young person out (a show, a football match, a shopping expedition, a new activity or just a pizza or coffee). You could offer to help with any schoolwork that might be causing difficulties, or just being a good listener. Teenagers and young adults don't always find it easy to be open about their difficulties, but may be very happy to find someone they can talk to who isn't a parent or teacher.
And don't forget that parents also still need a break or a sympathetic ear - it can be hard constantly hearing about other young people's exploits and achievements when your son or daughter is finding growing up a frustrating process.
Financial help for caring grandparents
If you are helping the parents by providing a substantial amount of care to your grandchild, you might be able to claim certain benefits like Carer's Allowance.
Your eligibility will depend on a number of factors, such as income and whether anyone else is already claiming as a carer for that child. Visit our benefits and tax credits pages to find out more about financial support, or call our freephone helpline.