Ever heard of the saying, 'It takes a village to raise a child'? Studies are proving that this is true – children who are in the company of their grandparents grow up healthier, kinder and with a greater sense of wellbeing.
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You might remember a post that went viral in 2016 and that still comes up on newsfeeds around this time of the year – an American grandmother, Wanda Dench, sent a text message to her grandchild (or so she thought), inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner, and later discovered she had texted the wrong person. The 17-year-old person she had messaged was Jamal Hinton, who clarified that he wasn’t her grandson, but asked if he could still come over for dinner. Dench replied: “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do… feed everyone.” Their tradition has continued every year since!
In a sense, Dench’s warm reaction to Hinton was a very grandmotherly thing to do.
A study published by the UK-based journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B worked with 50 grandmothers to see how their brains reacted to their grandchildren. The grandmothers showed brain activity correlated with cognitive empathy when they looked at their own children, and significantly stronger emotional empathy when they saw their grandchildren.
While cognitive empathy is the ability to understand what someone is thinking and feeling, and why, emotional empathy is the ability to actually feel the emotions the other person is feeling. So, grandparents may be wired to understand their adult children’s feelings, but they are also geared to an emotional response when it comes to their grandchildren. It’s why you might think your mum may be much gentler and forgiving with your child than she was with you, when you were little!
But even as there are neurological level changes in a grandparent’s brain, grandchildren face incredible benefits when spending time with their elders, too.
According to a study published by the University of Oxford, UK, in 2014, a high level of grandparental involvement increases the wellbeing of children. Their study of 1,500 children showed that children who had regular contact with their grandparents, were found to have fewer emotional and behavioural problems. They were also more likely to exhibit ‘pro-social’ behaviour, which involves behaviours that benefit others, like volunteering, sharing, helping, and cooperating. The results were so impressive, they have been informing UK family policy, where grandparents currently have no legal rights to see their grandchildren.
At the end of the day, spending time together is a win-win situation not just for the grandchildren and their grandparents – but for the mum and dad, too. A 2007 study by the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, US, found that two out of three people think that being a grandparent is the most important and satisfying role in their lives – and it helps them feel closer to their adult children.
It’s a win for the entire village.