Your two-year-old is just beginning to understand that the world extends beyond his immediate family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends are starting to play more of a part, too. He will also become more aware of the differences between being a boy and being a girl.

“Yasmin’s grandparents are important in her life. She has a special relationship with them, which is wonderful for us to see.”

—“Yasmin’s grandparents are important in her life. She has a special relationship with them, which is wonderful for us to see.”

Understanding that there are other people in his world helps your toddler develop social skills, and enables him to develop self-awareness and an understanding of the existence and meaning of relationships.

Important people

Your toddler is getting to know his wider family. The relationship between grandparent and grandchildren is often one of the most special and most loving.

Getting along with others

As well as having siblings and burgeoning friendships, your toddler may also have cousins as playmates. In some families these relationships are among the strongest that children develop through life. How well the children bond will depend to some extent on how relaxed the relationship is between the parents. Even though two adults have been brought up by the same parents, they may have radically different views on the “correct” way to bring up their own children, and toddlers can easily pick up on any tensions and differences.

A simple way to get around differences of adult opinion on the “best” approach to parenting is to agree to respect the house rules of the home you are in. Children are happiest when their parents are happy. If the adults agree to compromise—so can they.

Practicing sharing and role-play

All relationships offer toddlers the opportunity to understand how to share and take turns. You can help your toddler to develop self-awareness and to remember what is expected of him by modeling the kind of behavior that you expect, and by describing to him what you would like him to do. For example, “Tommy, here is Martha. Martha is your cousin [explains relationship] and she would like to play with you [explains expectation]. Would you like to play with Martha? [gives him control]” When Tommy nods, his mother continues. “Good idea—that’ll be fun [gives him praise]! I will come and help you [allows him to feel safe].” Had Tommy said “No,” then rather than force the issue his mother might have suggested that she would play with Martha and that Tommy could come and watch.

Children will begin to get more of a sense of their own gender at this age, through pretend play and role-playing with other children, and also through observing adult behavior. There is a tendency for girls to begin to model themselves on their mothers at this age. Boys, on the other hand, tend to seek out practical role models such as construction workers, firemen, soldiers, or perhaps members of their father’s profession. It tends to be role-play during pretend play that reinforces our idea of our own gender, along with the messages we receive from those around us. This will become more sharply focused once your child starts school.

In praise of grandparents

The decision to return to work while your child is still a toddler is often a necessity rather than a choice for modern parents. For those who feel that it is too soon for their child to attend preschool, having him cared for by grandparents is often the obvious answer. The situation allows grandparent and grandchild to bond closely, and the chances are that the approach to caregiving will be fairly similar to at least one of the parents.

Top tips for grandparents

While you may enjoy looking after your grandchildren, keep in mind that it might not always be easy.

  • Agree on some ground rules. Toddlers are highly intuitive and will soon discover that they can divide and rule. Find out from your son or daughter which home rules are absolutes, and which are more flexible, and do your best to stick to the agreement.

  • Caring for your grandchild doesn’t mean you need to be exhausted by him. Let him do the racing around. Don’t feel you have to join in. Your encouragement and love are enough.

  • Speak up if you feel you are being taken advantage of. Loving your grandchild doesn’t mean you always have to agree to take care of him.

  • Try not to criticize the parents. Raise concerns about your grand-child’s behavior rather than pre-judging the cause or their response.

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