One grandparent has a 'bigger' impact on kids than the other... Can you guess which one?

There's one grandparent in particular that can best help children through life’s hardships

A grandmother hugging her teenage granddaughter
(Image credit: Getty Images)

New research has revealed which grandparent has a 'bigger' impact on their grandkids than the other - and their positive influence can be life-changing. 

The importance of grandparents cannot be understated. As well as offering vital practical support for parents with childcare, stepping in to look after their grandkids as nursery costs soar, they're also on hand to give the younger generation emotional support and increase their wellbeing, with studies showing that children who have a good relationship with their grandparents have less behavioural and emotional problems

But while all grandparents should be appreciated, there is one in particular that has a 'bigger' impact on grandkids than the other, research has revealed. 

According to researchers at the University of Turku in Finland, 'maternal grandmothers' are more adept at 'protecting' their grandkids from what they call 'adverse childhood experiences' - adding new evidence for the existence of the 'grandma brain' phenomenon. 

The researchers analysed data that had been collected from 1,566 English and Welsh children between the ages 11 and 16 with the goal of first measuring the young people’s emotional and behavioural problems, and then seeing if there was any correlation between those problems and their relationship with a certain grandparent. 

Talking to HuffPost about their findings, lead researcher Samuli Helle revealed, “Our main finding was that investment from maternal grandmothers seemed to be able to protect their grandchild from the negative influence of experiencing multiple adverse early-life experiences." 

These phrase 'adverse childhood experiences' is used by psychologists to label the 'traumatic events or difficult circumstances that happened between the ages of 0 to 17' in a child's life, Whitney Raglin Bignall, associate clinical director for the Kids Mental Health Foundation, explains, and can include experiences like abuse, neglect, poverty, having an incarcerated caregiver, and witnessing violence or substance abuse issues. 

Having these traumatic experiences, Bignall says, can make a child a lot more likely to grow up and develop trauma as they may “change brain development and impact their body’s response to stress.” Therefore, this can “negatively impact their ability to develop healthy relationships,” as well as “their ability to pay attention, learn and make decisions.” It can also “lead to poor mental health” in adulthood, she added.

So, it's great news that the research findings show how kids who had these adverse childhood experiences were less likely to suffer for them in adulthood when there was a maternal grandmother in their life who offered support. 

But even though the research is showing how grandmothers are instinctively helping their grandkids, there is always more that can be done. So how can grandmothers, as well as other grandparents, offer vital support to better help their grandkids through traumatic childhood experiences?

According to Bignall, it's all about being there to offer a strong support system. She explained, “This includes having an ongoing and trusting relationship with an adult. An involved grandmother who is consistent, loving and available can be an essential buffer for children.

“There is something that is very special about the love of a grandparent, and when given it is uniquely additive to children.”

She recommends to;

  • Provide consistent routines.
  • Provide a stable environment.
  • Have clear expectations.
  • Be open, honest, nonjudgmental and warm.
  • Model healthy ways to manage stress.
  • Provide praise and encouragement.
  • Share your family’s culture and traditions to increase a sense of belonging.
  • Provide opportunities to connect with other adults who can help provide supportive relationships.

If you are a grandparent looking to learn more about how you can build a stronger relationship with your grandchild, we have you covered with the 5 grandparenting behaviours to try and avoid, according to experts. Plus, a child psychologist has unveiled 'the grandparent code', a list of 12 grandparenting rules to keep family relationships strong and healthy. And, 5 categories of grandparent have been identified by psychologists, and we all want number #2. 

News writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is a news writer for Goodtoknow, specialising in family content. She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.