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Try hard not to say it

Has this ever happened to you? You bump into a body of information that you fervently wish you had encountered previously. In my case, it’s practical advice that could have made my very existence easier over the last decade.

The article that enlightened me appeared in two places — www.grandparents.com and www.nextavenue.org. The title is “10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Grandkids.”

I have erred so many times in this arena, it’s almost embarrassing in recall. For example, “Is that nice boy you were talking to your boyfriend?” I have one teenage granddaughter and one pre-teen granddaughter. And each, in their separate ways, would cringe at either my husband or me saying that to them — publicly or privately. Although my husband might get by with doing it — he seems to get more latitude when he says things that are better kept unsaid. Fewer eye rolls.

I am already in hot water because I bought a soccer shirt for the oldest grand-girl that I was sure she would absolutely love, but I failed to cut out the XL tag. Not good.

Grandchildren want their grandparents to be “judgment-free cheerleaders” of everything they do. And they can be sensitive little souls — at any age. Therefore, no comparisons of skills and abilities other than maybe something like, “You are so good at tennis, and your sister is so good at soccer. What a family we have!” I think I have handled that well in most situations. Although maybe just clapping wildly and smiling broadly while attending tennis matches or soccer games is the better approach.

One reminder in the list of “10 Things” that had not occurred to me at all was “Don’t tell your grandchildren stories that portray your children's (their parents’) foibles. Resist the urge even if you think it might motivate or educate. It has the potential to throw things off balance in ways you cannot predict. I have definitely done that, and I do not think it had any lasting impact, but you will not catch me doing it again. It is closely related to never saying, “What do your parents say about me/us. I would never do that. In large part because I really do not think I want to know.

Here’s another reminder I would not have thought of — and do not think I would ever do. Don’t say, “If you get a tattoo, it’ll kill me.” Statements like that are quite inappropriate and way too dramatic. And what if she did get a tattoo? And then what if you did? Died, that is. Our 20-something granddaughter got a tattoo recently. I wish she had not done that, but it’s actually rather cool. If I do comment on it, it's probably better to say it’s “cool” than “cute.”

I am only giving you a glimpse of fresh communication ideas that might make grandparenting more enjoyable for all. You might want to access the entire article referenced above.

For future reference — aka “note to self” — affirmations not inquiries.

— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.