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Every grandparent and grandchild knows that spending more time with your grandma or granddad makes you happier.  Now that age-old truth has been endorsed by a national study aimed at finding out why children from some backgrounds do better in school than those from other backgrounds.

On balance, the study reveals that kids whose grandparents take a significantly active role in their pre-school development are well advanced linguistically by the time they start a formal education. The upshot of the study: grandparents make better carers than formal carers do.

The difference lies in the degree of care given – as grandparents we can devote undivided attention to our children’s children, and provide a nurturing environment for them to grow up in. More interest and attention means more stimulation, plus it may be likely that by removing some of the burden of childcare from the parents, we’re also able to improve the children’s relationships with their mother and father – particularly through the sometimes fraught years of the Terrible Twos!

The study, which was commissioned by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (as part of a drive to find out what impact the costs of childcare are having on parents), also finds that children looked after by grandparents instead of professional care providers are more likely to grow up emotionally secure. Again reviving another age-old truth – the extended family unit is a better place for new members of the family to grow up in.

So here’s a question: as grandparents, should we be thinking of moving closer to our grandchildren? Back in the baby boomer days, communities tended to be composed of extended family units – with aunts, uncles and grandparents all living just a street or two away from each other. That model supplied a whole generation of kids with the confidence and ability to find careers and build their own families.

Should our own children think about moving closer to home when they start a family?  Perhaps  it’s now easier for the younger generation to move, though with recession-hit housing markets making a mockery out of mortgages, and rents shooting up to fill the gap, this too can be difficult.

In reality, of course, there is no right answer. As grandparents we do what we can. My own grandparents lived a sizeable drive away, halfway across the country, when I was growing up – but they still played an active role in my childhood, visiting a couple of times a year and speaking with us on the phone every Sunday. They reinforced the good manners my parents were already teaching me, they spoiled me when I was good, they ticked me off me when I was bad.

If you have problems finding the right childcare, or are facing the prospect of rearing a grandchild, you can find help at:

Mother at Work, full of links and resources.

The Grandparents’ Association, with grandparent specific childcare ideas.

Ask Granny, the online guide for grandparents.