Preparing your home, and yourself, for a summer visit from the grandchildren can be complicated, and intimidating, especially if you’re concerned about making your home safe for small kids. But a little advance planning can go a long way toward making the visit a memorable one — without leaving you desperate for a vacation of your own.
Child-proofing … and house-proofing
Serious accidents seldom happen at home — to the children, that is. But you may have legitimate fears that your prized china, delicate fabrics, and pristine wallpaper may be at risk when the kids come over.
First, take steps to eliminate or cover up any dangers to the kids — sharp edges, choking hazards, anything that can tip over with just a push, and breakable objects within reach of little arms. Then, look to protect your things: cover or relocate delicate upholstery and antique wood surfaces that can be threatened by crumbs, grape juice, sticky fingers, or sandy feet.
There are some crucial safety measures every grandparent needs to take before grandkids come over for an extended stay:
Safety first, second, and third
* Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for young children. Make sure your grandchildren’s parents let you know what the kids need in terms of car-seat support. If they’re not there to help you install a new car seat in your own vehicle, get help from SeatCheck.org.
* After car crashes, drowning is the second-greatest risk to kids. Experts remind families every summer that even children who appear comfortable in the water can drown; the American Academy of Pediatrics, in fact, says that children under 4 cannot be trusted to “swim,” even if they’ve taken lessons.
* Sending young children out in the sun today without first slathering them in SPF 30 sunscreen is as unthinkable as letting them bike without a helmet. The good news is that several top children’s brands now come in convenient spray-on formulas. Apply sunscreen to the kids 30 minutes before going outside for maximum benefit.
* If Lyme disease is a concern in your area, don’t forget the bug spray. Even if it isn’t, remember that kids often have worse reactions to mosquito bites than adults. For children, use sprays with no more than 30 percent DEET — or just try the old-fashioned approach of covering them up with long pants, long sleeves, and socks.
The fun stuff
Preparing for the grandchildren to visit is about more than safety, of course; it’s also about making them feel at home — and special. Before they arrive, make up a goodie bag stuffed with inexpensive toys and treats. “There’s just something about opening a bag” that gets visits off to a great start, says Sharon Brenner, 59, a grandmother of three in Portland, Ore.
Snacks are key to spreading that welcome feeling, too. “The most important thing for teenage grandchildren is to have the foods that they love, and not to complain about the health or quality of their preferences,” says Betsy Riviere, 68, a grandmother of six in Wilmington, N.C. “I serve chicken fingers, Gatorade, nachos, and endless quantities of pasta whenever they visit.”
But don’t go overboard: Before kids visit, check with parents on their usual limits for daily snacks, as well as their limits on TV, computer, and video game use. You may decide to violate those rules — it’s a grandparent’s prerogative, after all — but you should at least know the baseline.
Anything but routine
Even on vacation, most children benefit from having a schedule. But don’t plan every hour of every day. It’s just as likely that your grandchildren will be fascinated by quiet free time with you. Sort through old family photos with them or tell tales about your own childhood, or, even better, stories about “when your parent was bad.”
Still, if you do have a list of activities you’re considering, let the kids help make the choices. Write a half-dozen possible outings for a given day on slips of paper, and let a child pull one from a hat. But don’t be surprised if they prefer just to stay home and talk. In today’s overscheduled world, a vacation may be the only time the kids don’t have anything to do. Let them savor it.
And keep in mind that you’ll enjoy their visit all the more if your own routine isn’t completely disrupted. If you always walk on the treadmill on Wednesday morning, don’t give it up — see if your gym has childcare.