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Grandparents and looking after grandchildren during lockdown

coronavirus childcare

Updated 15/05/20

With the government's new guidelines having come into effect this week,  what exactly do the new social distancing rules mean for grandparents in the UK? Are grandparents allowed to see their grandchildren? Will they be able to provide childcare during the coronavirus pandemic? What measures are being put in place to keep older and more vulnerable grandparents safe once children go back to school? 

"Like so many other grandparents I just want him to say I can visit the grandkids - they only live around the corner." lesley60


What are the new guidelines? 

According to the government's new guidelines, people in England are now allowed to meet up with one member of another household in a public, outdoor space as long as they adhere to the two metre distancing rule. We are also permitted to take unlimited exercise, use outdoor sports facilities, spend time outdoors (picnicking or sunbathing), and visit garden centres. 

However, there have been mixed reactions to the the prime minister's announcement on the Gransnet discussion boards, with many feeling that the guidelines are open to misinterpretation. Some are also concerneed that two metres distance may not offer adequate protection if someone coughs or sneezes nearby. 


Do the new guidelines mean I can see my grandchildren?

While the new measures are certainly a step in the right direction, for most grandparents this will not necessarily mean they will be able to see their younger grandchildren. As the guidelines stipulate only one family member, this means that young grandchildren won't be able to go out on their own to meet up with their grandparents in a park or open space, although older, teenage children may be able to. 


Can I babysit my grandchildren?

For now, the answer to  is sadly no, although some gransnetters are getting round this with some virtual creativity...  

Many parents are now working from home and although this means that at least an adult is present, many have found that juggling a full day's work alongside childcare/home-schooling is quite a challenge. Luckily many grandparents have come to the rescue by using technology to distract or even teach grandchildren via video calls. 

"I am finding online children quizzes which I send to my son and then we FaceTime with them - one for a 10 year-old grandchild, one for a 5-year-old."



When will grandparents be able to provide childcare?

At the moment, government guidance says that we are only allowed to meet with one other member of another household. However, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary is looking into whether the government can allow two households to join and interact in a "bubble" as long as they do not also meet with others to form a chain. This will be the next phase though and grandparents are eagerly awaiting clarification on how this will work practically and safely for all involved. 

Within the government's 50-page document they say: "The intention of this change would be to allow those who are isolated some more social contact, and to reduce the most harmful effects of the current social restrictions, while continuing to limit the risk of chains of transmission. It would also support some families to return to work by, for example, allowing two households to share childcare."


Are childminders and nurseries allowed to provide childcare, rather than grandparents?

"I can see how some grandparents can be jealous in this situation." Hithere

Many grandparents, especially those who, pre-Covid-19, provided regular childcare for their grandchildren, are frustrated by the fact that other people outside the immediate family are allowed access to their grandchildren when they themselves haven't seen them for months. The response on the forums is that childminders and nursery workers tend to be younger and with the recovery rate of older patients that much lower, it would be wiser for now, not to take that risk. "The fact is, regardless of how fit, active, otherwise healthy, the older one is, the more depleted one's immune system." welbeck

Grandparents are also worried about the financial stress this will put on their adult children who will have to start returning to work, and would usually have relied on their own parents to look after their children, but may now have to make other expensive childcare arrangements.  


What about grandparents who are over 70?

Older grandparents (those over 70 regardless of medical conditions), as well as those who are 'clinically vulneable' are still being encouraged to socially isolate as much as possible and may be excluded from any 'social bubbles' in the near future, as the government deems the risk to them too high at this point. They government website says that 'Anyone who has been advised to shield by the NHS or their GP, including those 70 and over, should continue to do this until at least the end of June."

The risk of loneliness and damage to mental health from these restrictions can not be underestimated so please do read over these loneliness resources if you are feeling particularly frustrated or worried about being in continued isolation. If you fancy some virtual company, do join in our coversations, particularly Soop's Kitchen or look out for our daily Good Morning threads.  


What do the new guidelines mean for grandparents in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? 

In these parts of the UK, the advice is very much still to 'stay home', rather than to simply 'stay alert', although the Welsh and Scottish government is also now allowing people to exercise outside more than once a day. Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said: "The Sunday papers is the first I’ve seen of the PM’s new slogan. It is of course for him to decide what’s most appropriate for England, but given the critical point we are at in tackling this virus, #StayHomeSaveLives remains my clear message to Scotland at this stage." For more details check out the Scottish government advice here, for details on Wales go here, and you can find out more about Northern Ireland's rules here.  


How do I maintain the relationship with my grandchildren if isolated?

With 44% of those we surveyed saying that they are worried about the relationship between themselves and their grandchildren during lockdown, it's clear grandparenting has never been so hard. While we all understand the need to practise social distancing or self-isolation during this pandemic, we also know how important it is to keep in touch with friends and family. With many of us falling within the ‘high-risk’ category, this time can be particularly difficult, especially if you’re usually the one looking after the grandchildren while their parents are working. Being apart from them for a prolonged period of time, with no clear end in sight, can be very difficult.

But not to worry, as our users have found, there are still ways to help out and stay connected to your grandchildren, without putting ourselves - or them - at risk.

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Staying in touch for your mental health

As we get older, our risk of being isolated - along with the mental and physical toll this can take - increases. Many of us are used to living alone, but now, with self-isolation and other restrictions in place which prevent us from going out and meeting up with friends and family, for most people this is a totally new way of living. In fact, 37% of our surveyed users said they are concerned about their mental health and are taking steps to keep positive and stay connected to others.  

“I’ve never been any good at thinking about myself - I always need to be ‘looking after’ someone else. First my children, then my nan, then my mum and dad, then my grandkids. This is why I’m mentally flapping that there’s no contact, no-one to do anything for.”

How to use technology to keep in touch with family

grandparents and grandchildren coronavirus video calling

The good news? This is probably the best time in history to find ourselves isolated. We can arrange for deliveries of food and other essentials through online supermarkets - if relevant, you can register yourself as vulnerable here - and we can keep in touch in myriad ways. Apart from the obvious - calling and texting - there are so many ways social media can be used to bring families together. Many gransnetters recommend the folliowing:

  • family Whatsapp groups - a daily check-in works for many families
  • video calling through FaceTime, Skype or similar 
  • photo-sharing on Facebook
  • virtual pub quiz evenings (everyone online with their choice of tipple (juice for the kids obviously and a bag of crisps). Search 'kid-friendly pub quiz' for ideas. 
  • communal family meals on video - set a time for your Sunday lunch and all log on then to 'eat together'

“I hate not seeing family but thank goodness for modern technology - we text, phone, FaceTime and Skype and exchange photos!”

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Five ways to entertain grandchildren from a distance

Whether it's reading books, telling stories, sharing jokes, watching TV 'together' at the same time, there are lots of things you can do to help stave off boredom while we are all stuck inside. Some great ideas from our users include: 

1) Set them a challenge

"I have made a video for my grandson in the US, showing him how to make a paper aeroplane. It'll keep him out of his mum's hair for eight minutes. To my granddaughter, I am sending letters with pictures to colour, and will follow up with songs, poems, jokes, recipes and things to make and do."

2) Send them some plants

“I have sent an individual letter to my grandchildren with a packet of vegetable seeds to plant (the ones they like) with some jokes and will do this as long this goes on. Everyone likes to get a letter.”

3) Mirror their activities online

“If you are able to get hold of something like play-doh and your granddaughter has some, you could challenge one another to copy what each of you are making over a video call.”

4) Play guessing games

“I'd have a load of props just out of sight… daft hat, weird ornament… make her guess what's in your hand… each new thing will make her laugh.”

5) Help them with their homework

"My grandsons are doing some lessons at home, and I contribute by sending them a Word of the Day via WhatsApp video. I choose daft words that they will enjoy repeating, but which will hopefully add to their useful vocabulary at the same time - if they remember them... It's good for me too - browsing the dictionary every day for new words is very educational!"

Take a look at our forums for some more great ideas.

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