There are many ways to help children under stress, and grandparents can have special opportunities. Children may experience stress due to some fairly normal life changes, such as starting a new school or day care, the birth of a new sibling, separation or divorce, moving to a new home, change of parent’s employment, or illness. However children may experience stress because of more traumatic situations such as a death in the family, living in a violent neighborhood, or someone close to them abusing drugs or alcohol.
To help children under stress, grandparents can use their special relationship to model how you handle stress and change. You can spend quality time and provide them with basic coping skills to help them handle future life challenges.
Children who are experiencing stress overload may exhibit behaviors that seem out of the ordinary from the usual behaviors that they have exhibited previously. If you notice behavioral, physical, or intellectual changes, determine if stress is a contributing factor. Here are ways that grandparents can help children under stress.
Listen to the concerns that the grandchildren have and offer your perspectives and wisdom about handling the situation. Praise them for their efforts and offer gentle guidance in their problem solving. Active communication is very meaningful for the grandchildren. They need to know that they matter and that someone is listening. Listen to what the child is saying.
Look at what you think the child’s body language is telling you. They may not remember all of your words of wisdom, but they will most likely remember how you made them feel. Comfortable. Calm. Safe. With security, they may be more willing to talk about what is bothering them—if they know—when they are ready.
Knowing that you are a real person with real experiences makes you more interesting and more human in their eyes. Learning about what life was like when you were growing up allows you and the grandchildren to share ideas, experiences and feelings. And there might be a lot of questions about what their parents were like as kids—if you can remember back that far!
Follow their parental rules, and do not criticize how the parents are raising the children. Teach self-discipline for the children by modeling self-discipline yourself. When you witness unacceptable behavior, help them find acceptable ways to express themselves. When corrective discipline is necessary, use logical consequences. By following the rules of the parent’s household, you are showing support for the parents as well as demonstrating the importance of rules. Children find that rules help them feel safe in the environment in which they live.
Allow the child to help you when they are able. One of the greatest gifts grandparents can offer grandchildren is teaching them skills that the grandparents have learned and mastered. Projects I learned from my grandmother are some of my favorite memories, including learning how to bake a cake, pressing and preserving wild flowers we found in the fields, planting peas and watching them grow, learning to play card games.
While spending time, my grandparents and I talked about all sorts of things, and I learned about many family traditions that were handed down to my parents and that I now hand down to my kids. Often I was transformed to a different era, and the worries I might have from peer pressures, sibling rivalry or academic deadlines seemed to disappear for the time being. Children under stress find that grandparents can be their oasis in a challenging world around them.