Never Too Late: Grandparents Enhancing Their Parenting Skills

Larissa Dann Blog Post 7th January, 2017

‘I’m going to be looking after my grandchildren soon, when their parents go back to work.  It’s been so long since I was a parent of little kids - I’d like to know what’s changed.’  This was a query I heard a number of times as a telephone counsellor on a parent helpline.  Then there was this. ‘I’ve been given care of my grandchild.  I’m worried.  I don’t want to make the same mistakes again.’  And this. ‘I’m looking after my grandchildren, but I feel so alone.  How can I meet others doing the same thing?’

Heartfelt pleas.  How could I help?

Fortunately, I had been teaching parents parenting skills for some years, while putting these same principles into practice as a parent.  Perhaps I could adapt the course for the diverse needs of these grandparents?

I wondered how such a tailored course (Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) for Grandparents) would be received.  As I promoted the courses, one mature gentleman said to me ‘any grandparent that needs to do a parenting course needs a good spanking!’

Really?! I realised that stigma and fear might be greater obstacles for grandparents to attend this course, than it was for parents.

Then, with their courage in hand and their minds open, grandmothers and grandfathers came to learn parenting skills.  Some were parenting their grandchildren, some had occasional care of their grandchildren, while others were regular carers. 

Everyone attending the courses had already brought up their adult children, so the course material had the potential to be quite challenging.  I was not a grandparent, nor were my co-facilitators. Yet in they trooped, these amazing grandparents, with their life stories, and their willingness to learn.

Over the eight weeks of each course, grandparents learnt about listening (and roadblocks), how to be assertive, how to resolve conflict peacefully.  They put these respectful communication skills into practice – with their grandchildren, their children, their partner, and even their adult siblings.  They shared their experiences, and they got to know each other.

At the end of each course, the grandparents reflected on changes that had happened within themselves, and their family. The effects were stunning. 

‘My grandchild is laughing again, after six months of not laughing.  Maybe we won’t have to go the psychologist now’ remarked a grandmother.

Many grandparents were surprised and delighted to find that these new ways of communicating, had improved the relationship between them and their adult children. 

‘My son and I are more respectful of each other, and my grandsons are picking up on this’ said one participant.

Grandparents felt less stressed than when they began the course, saying they felt calmer, more peaceful. 

They reported feeling skilled in how to deal with situations involving their grandchildren, and how to build strong relationships – while keeping their adult children on side. 

‘I feel so much more confident in caring for my grandchild, and that I’ll make less mistakes this time because of my PET skills’, said one participant.

 Some grandmothers spoke about feeling relieved.

‘Now, at 60 plus years of age, we know it’s OK to have feelings – and a whole range of feelings! When we were children, we were only allowed to feel sad, never mad.’

It wasn’t all plain sailing.  Some participants found sections of the course quite confronting.  One grandparent said,

‘I felt so guilty about the way we’d raised our child, and wondered if we could have avoided the problems our child now has, if we’d done this course decades ago’.  But they persevered with the course, because of the positive changes that were happening in themselves, and in the relationship with their troubled child.

Many of the participants formed strong friendships with each other, and continued to meet after the course finished.  They felt less alone and isolated, more connected.

The benefits of learning a new approach to parenting rippled beyond the grandparents attending the course. Participants spoke of the positive influence not only on themselves, but also on their adult children, their family, and their friends.

Some years later, I met up with one of the grandmothers from a PET for Grandparents course.  I was awed and humbled by her comment.

"Your course was amazing.  I still refer back to the skills I learnt there when I'm with my grandchildren".

Today’s parenting skills may be more relevant than ever for grandparents, as they take up the many roles asked of them.


Poster. Enhancing the Grandparent Experience: Parent Effectiveness Training for Grandparents.

© Larissa Dann. 2017.  All rights reserved


Some great tips, thanks for sharing. It has become quite common now for grandparents to undertake parenting roles on a part-time to full-time basis. It certainly can prove a daunting period for some, especially when it’s often been a while since they raised their own children. However, as you’ve found, grandparents can have such a positive impact on their grandchildren and how they’re raised.


Thank you, Jasmine. Yes, I was truly inspired by the grandparents I met in the various courses, and the positive impact they had on their entire family.

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