Wednesday 22 October 2014

Time to have a delicate conversation with indulgent grandparents

Published 09/04/2014 | 02:30

Grandparents' generosity with food has been linked to obesity in children
Grandparents' generosity with food has been linked to obesity in children
Unhealthy mix: children whose grandparents are full-time minders are 34pc more likely than their peers to be overweight according to new research

There is no love like the love of a grandparent – but can it sometimes be too much? As all working parents know having the grandparents mind your child is the ideal solution. You know your child will be loved and protected and you can go to work without a backward glance.

As someone who has had a range of child minders, some good, some not so good, I've always thought the holy grail would be for a grandparent to do the minding.

Parents have always relied on grandparents to help out with childcare but the recession has meant that even more grandparents are being asked to become full or part-time childminders as many parents cannot afford formal childcare anymore. A report published in 2010 – Growing Up in Ireland – showed that 12pc of infants are cared for full-time by their grandparents, with 33pc of grandparents doing some childminding every week.

It seems, however, that serious problems can arise with some grandparents loving their grandchildren too much and wanting to spoil them all the time. The main area of concern is the overuse of 'treats' as a reward.

Research has shown that children minded by their grandparents, regardless of social class, are now more likely to be overweight.

Children whose grandparents are full-time minders are 34pc more likely than their peers to be overweight and those whose grandparents look after them part-time were 15pc more likely to be overweight than children who go to creches or are minded by nannies.

It all seems to come down to the grandparents spoiling the grandchildren and showering them with treats. While giving your grandchild the occasional treat is harmless, unfortunately when given on a regular basis it becomes a problem – a serious one.

It's a problem that can continue into the child's adulthood. Nutritionists and dieticians are united in their claims that children who are exposed to food being used as a reward for good behaviour may go on to reward themselves with food during stressful times and after a hard day at work as adults, and thus the weight problems continue.

Irish healthy eating body, Safefood, is planning to highlight the issue in a TV advertising campaign later this year. While the organisation isn't blaming anyone for children's weight problems, the director of human health and nutrition, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan said that they want to encourage what could be a delicate conversation between parent and grandparents.

Foley-Nolan says that the issue kept being raised during the research for their anti-obesity campaign. Parents complained that grandparents were always 'spoiling' children and giving them treats.

It's a difficult conversation to have. If your mother is giving up her time to care for your child while you go out to work, is it fair for you to berate her for indulging your child?

On the other hand, you don't want your child to end up with an obesity problem, so it's something that has to be addressed, but in the most subtle of ways. The upside to having a paid childminder is that you can tell them what you want them to do and expect them to follow your instructions. It's not so easy to reprimand your own mother when she's doing you a huge favour.

Child rearing has always been a contentious topic and it's not just food. Parents and grandparents clash over differences of opinion about discipline, nap times, homework, manners ...

It's a very thin line – you want your child to be safe, loved and happy, which they will be with granny. However, you may have different views on childrearing to your mother. How do you broach this without hurting her feelings?

Safefood wants to encourage parents to discuss reasonable limits with grandparents. "An element of indulgence is reasonable and healthy but we'd encourage grandparents to do other things – playing games or cooking with them," says Foley-Nolan.

One in four Irish children is overweight or obese by age three, so an over-indulgent grandparent is not something that we can continue to ignore. Safefood is promoting practical steps for childminders and parents to ensure their children maintain a healthy weight. Guidelines include feeding children portions that relate to their age, limiting treats and sugary drinks, reducing screen time and making physical activity part of their day.

Every parent wants the best for their child and that may mean sitting down and having frank discussion with the grandparents.

The key is to tread very softly. A good grandparent is a precious thing and something to be cherished. So when you ask them to cut down on the treats, use the diplomatic skills of a UN ambassador.

Irish Independent

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