Nurturing the ‘grand’ in grandchildren over the holidays

First 5 California offers free resources for African American grandparents

by Kris Perry, First 5 California

Kwanzaa-family-with-grandfather, Nurturing the ‘grand’ in grandchildren over the holidays, Culture Currents In the holiday season, it is important to remember that a grandparent’s love and support have a positive impact on children, particularly in the early years of a child’s life. According to the Foundation for Grandparenting, when kids develop a strong bond with their grandparents, they feel more stable and even do better in school. This is especially important for African American children because they are more likely than any other ethnic group to live with grandparents. Researchers have also found that these relationships between older and younger generations have long-term benefits for grandparents and grandchildren.

There are at least 56 million grandparents in the country, with the U.S. Census Bureau reporting that more than 4.5 million children live with their grandparents. Below are helpful tips on how grandparents can support their grandchildren in their early years.

Read to your grandchildren

November is Child Literacy Month and a perfect time for grandparents to make reading a priority when spending time with their grandchildren. First 5 California encourages grandparents to take their grandchildren to the public library, participate in storytelling activities and take books home to read together. Take advantage of the holiday season and read your grandchildren some holiday classics. Keep in mind the following tips to make reading a daily part of your grandchild’s life year-round.

Infants: Reading aloud provides special bonding time for grandparents and infants. Babies enjoy hearing the sound of a familiar voice while the words, pictures and stories stimulate their brain.

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Toddlers: Reading improves a toddler’s listening and speaking skills and helps him or her begin to understand words and phrases. Toddlers enjoy hearing the same story repeated many times as this helps them make connections between words and pictures.

Preschoolers: As children prepare to enter school for the first time, regular reading habits can give them an extra boost. That’s because reading builds confidence as well as vocabulary skills, which are both important for school success. Make visits to the library a regular part of your activities with your grandchildren, and let them choose several books on their favorite topics.

Pass on traditions

The African American culture is steeped in wonderful traditions, especially over the holidays, and sharing stories helps develop a child’s mental, verbal and communication skills.

  • Share holiday family stories with your grandchildren. Remember, children love to hear what their parents and grandparents were like as kids!
  • Provide kids with wisdom and guidance – grandma and grandpa can be great role models.
  • Describe the “good old days” in ways that help kids understand their own life and the world around them.

Good nutrition and exercise

The holiday season is often a busy time of year with parties and family gatherings – and that means lots of food. African American holiday meals are deeply rooted in tradition, but many of the dishes are high in fat, salt and sugar. When cooking, try to limit these ingredients or substitute healthier alternatives.

As a grandparent, encourage your grandchildren to eat well-balanced, nutritious meals and get regular exercise to ensure they remain healthy throughout the holidays. This is important because African American children statistically suffer more from childhood obesity than non-African American children. Obesity not only affects a child’s well-being, but it also contributes to future health problems, such as asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

First 5 California encourages all grandparents and other caregivers to learn about local resources that can help young children. For more information, call 1-800-KIDS-025 or visit

Kris Perry is the executive director of First 5 California. Also known as the California Children and Families Commission, First 5 California was established after voters passed Proposition 10 in November 1998, adding a 50 cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes to fund education, health, child care and other programs for expectant parents and children up to age 5. For more information, visit


Kwanzaa, a unique African American celebration, is based on the Nguzo Saba (seven guiding principles), one for each day of the observance, and is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. (See Kwanzaa 2009 for a listing of Kwanzaa celebrations in the Bay Area and Southern California.)

The seven days of Kwanzaa are:

Umoja (oo-MO-jah) Unity stresses the importance of togetherness for the family and the community, which is reflected in the African saying, “I am We,” or “I am because We are.”

Kujichagulia (koo-gee-cha-goo-LEE-yah) Self-Determination requires that we define our common interests and make decisions that are in the best interest of our family and community.

Ujima (oo-GEE-mah) Collective Work and Responsibility reminds us of our obligation to the past, present and future and that we have a role to play in our community, our society and our world.

Ujamaa (oo-JAH-mah) Cooperative Economics emphasizes our collective economic strength and encourages us to meet common needs through mutual support.

Nia (NEE-yah) Purpose encourages us to look within ourselves and to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community.

Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah) Creativity makes use of our creative energies to build and maintain a strong and vibrant community.

Imani (ee-MAH-nee) Faith focuses on honoring the best of our traditions, draws upon the best in ourselves, and helps us strive for a higher level of life for humankind by affirming our self-worth and confidence in our ability to succeed and triumph in righteous struggle.