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Making the most of your grandkids

Just when my wife, Amy, and I thought it was safe to walk passed the infant section of a department store or not venture into a toy store, along came Leah, our first grandchild. Now we find ourselves in those places again, and loving every minute of it.

The following is our alphabet guide to better grandparenting, developed from our experiences and talking to other grandparents.

AVAILABILITY and ADVICE _ Grandparents need to be available as much as possible for their children and their grandchildren. It is difficult for grandparents to abstain from offering advice on how the grandchildren should be raised. Accept the fact that your children will raise your grandchildren in the manner that they think is best.

BEHAVIOR and BABYSITTING _ Your grandchildren's behavior is a common reason for grandparents to voice an opinion. If you want to be a welcome guest, sometimes you have to close your eyes, ears and mouth. On the other hand, babysitting _ anytime, anywhere, a time to cuddle, giggle and spend quality time with your grandchildren.

COMPARING, COMPLIMENT and CUTE _ Comparing one grandchild to another is not recommended. Compliment your children on their parenting of your grandchild. Cute, cuter, cutest _ this is what your grandchildren are when compared to all the others.

DINNER _ One night, tell your children to have an evening alone and you'll take care of the grandchildren. Try to make the evening your treat.

ENJOY every minute you have with your grandchild. You probably remember how quickly your children grew up. Grandchildren grow up even faster.

FAMILY _ The most important unit in the world, and grandparents are the heritage that links the generations together.

GIVE THEM BACK _ You can love them, play with them, feed them, spoil them, and then give them back to their parents. By the way, your grandchildren are gems and geniuses.

HOLD and HAPPINESS _ Hold your advice until you are asked for it. The moment you get the news that you are to become grandparents, you will experience happiness.

INTEREST, INVITATIONS and INTERFERENCE _ Children are your investments, but your grandchildren are the interest on those investments. Let your children know that you are always willing to help, then sit back and wait for the invitation. And remember, your best intentions can sometimes be interpreted as interference.

JELLY, as in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, can be cut and decorated in shapes of dolls, airplanes, etc. for your grandchildren to enjoy.

KEEPSAKES and KISSES _ We all have favorite keepsakes that can be handed down to the next generation. It is fun to distribute them while you can see them being enjoyed. Grandparents can never get enough kisses, but always remember your children (the grandchild's parents), and give them a kiss, too.

LEAH and LOVE _ Our first grandchild, Leah, whose hazel-blue eyes brighten every day we see her. Being a grandparent is love, more than you ever thought you could feel.

MUSIC and MEMORIES _ Children respond to music, so have a special song that they will associate with their grandparents. Children love to hear about their parents when they were young, so make sure you recall and share past experiences, stories and memories about yourself and your family.

NONSENSE and NURSERY RHYMES _ The language of the young grandchild _ nonsense _ makes perfect sense to them. Be sure to brush up on your nursery rhymes. Barney will never replace Mother Goose.

OPEN your mind and heart to the world of today and accept your grandchildren as they are. OTHER people's grandchildren _ cute, to be sure, but no comparison to "you know who."

PICTURES, PLAY PRETEND and PREJUDICE _ Always have pictures available for all to see, in wallets, frames, videos and, if you could, on the Goodyear Blimp. Play Pretend with your grandchildren when they are small. It will teach you a lot about their personalities. Children are not born with prejudice. This is learned from parents, grandparents and friends, so be sure to teach your grandchildren to respect and understand the differences in people.

QUALITY TIME and QUIET _ Quality time with your grandchildren is a wonderful time to reminisce. Quiet is that awful sound in your house just before the grandchildren arrive, and that wonderful sound in your house just after they leave.

RULES _ We often hate to say "no" to our grandchildren. This can be avoided by making a set of grandparent rules so that from their first visit the grandchildren learn what behavior is acceptable in your home.

SAFETY and SEATS _ Remember, grandparents are not used to having little ones around, so make sure all household cleaners, sharp instruments and medications are out of reach from curious hands. Safety first. Prepare your home before they arrive. Car seats, infant seats, high chairs, potty seats. How do all those buckles and safety straps work? Today's grandparents have to be mechanical engineers.

TENDERNESS and TOYS _ Grandparents can never give enough "TLC." Have some special toys at your house for your grandchildren to enjoy when they visit.

USE and UNUSUAL _ Grandparents should use their heads so that they don't get frazzled about things grandchildren do. When talking to other grandparents, remember to point out that your grandchildren are unusual _ unusually bright, unusually beautiful and unusually wonderful.

VISITS _ Grandparents will always look forward to their grandchildren's visits, but don't make the grandchildren feel guilty if they chose to visit someone else.

WISHES, WISDOM and WONDERFUL _ All grandparents wish the very best for their grandchildren, that they will welcome our wisdom from past experiences and know that we only have their welfare in mind. There is nothing like that warm and wonderful feeling grandparents get when the grandchildren open the door of your homeand your heart.

X-RAY and XPRESS. It would be great if we had X-ray eyes to see into the future. As a grandparent, we know that life has many ups and downs. We also know that a solid family life, plenty of love, and instilling an awareness of right from wrong, will help to overcome the hurdles. Xpress your love frequently.

YOUNG AT HEART should be your theme song. You can remain "young at heart" by having other interests and hobbies besides your children and grandchildren.

ZZZZZZs _ something you can get with your grandchildren that you never had time to get with your own children. Zip right over there now and give them a kiss. If they don't live nearby, then call them on the phone.

This column is meant to draw attention to the issues discussed and should not be relied upon as medical advice. It is not intended to replace the advice of your child's physician. Dr. Bruce A. Epstein has practiced pediatrics in St. Petersburg since 1973. He is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He is married and has three grown children and a granddaughter.

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