Grandparents may pose safety threat to grandchildren because of outdated health beliefs

Sarah Knapton
A large percentage of grandparents answered each of the seven health belief statements incorrectly - Alamy 

They are pillars of wisdom whose decades of experience should make them the very best babysitters.

But according to a new study, grandparents may be inadvertently endangering their grandchildren by clinging on to outdated healthcare myths or old wives tales about how best to treat household injuries and bring up children.

Dr Andrew Adesman of the Cohen Children’s Medical Centre in New York, surveyed nearly 700 grandparents about health and parenting myths and found that many still have misconceptions about looking after youngsters.

Grandparents are often utterly indispensable and a lot of families would struggle to keep going without them.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK

For example 13 per cent of grandparents still believed that putting butter on a scald could heal the injury faster, while and 61 per cent believed that leaving a wound open to the air was better than covering it with a bandage.

Nearly one-quarter did not know that infants should be put to sleep on their back, not on their stomach or side - a major risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

And four in ten also believed that children should be plunged into an icy bath if they have a fever, an action that can 58 per cent thought that ice could be applied to a minor burn.

AgeUK say many families could not cope without the help of grandparents  Credit: Getty/AgeUK say many families could not cope without the help of grandparents 

There are 13.6 million grandparents in Britain, of which 63 per cent provide childcare and 200,000 are solely raising f their grandchildren, according to the charity GrandparentsPlus.

“It is concerning that many grandparents still subscribe to some outdated parenting practices,” said Dr Adesman.

“For example, 40 per cent of the grandparents thought that an ice bath was an acceptable way to treat a child with a very high fever, and more than half of grandparents thought that ice was an appropriate first aid treatment for a minor burn.

“A child should never be placed in an ice bath since it can lower the child’s temperature too much.  Likewise, using ice to treat a minor burn can actually injury the skin.

“Although grandparents may be experienced at raising children, some important things have changed in the past 20-30 years.”

However charities argued that many families would not be able to cope without the support of grandparents who do far more good than harm.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “The majority of grandparents only want to do the very best for their children.  Families often rely on relatives, particularly grandparents to help care for children.

"Whether it’s through practical help such as offering childcare, or emotional support such as providing a shoulder to cry on when a grandchild is having a tough time at school, grandparents are often utterly indispensable and a lot of families would struggle to keep going without them."

The research also found that many grandparents felt unable to look after their grandchildren properly because of their own medical problems.

And, more than two-thirds (71 per cent) of grandparents did note that taking on responsibility for parenting their grandchild had limited their ability to socialize with their own friends.

"One major takeaway from this study is that for grandparents who are raising grandchildren, their parenting can often take a toll in terms of their own physical and emotional health, and support groups can make a difference," said Dr. Adesman.

Previous research has found that sending youngsters to nursery is likely to be better for them than being at home, because it helps them to develop social and everyday skills.

In contrast the children of stay-at-home mums or those left with grandparents fare less well, having poorer speech and movement, according to research from the London School of Economics and Oxford University.

The researchers said children were often exposed to more stimulating activities at nursery, as well as interacting with new children and adults, which helped their development.

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