Tips for Grandparents
A grandparent's role in easing children's stress-filled lives.
Most adults would describe childhood as blissful and carefree, especially in comparison to their own pressure-cooker lives. Few children worry about lay-offs, escalating debt, or declining health: so what pressures do grandchildren really face? Plenty!
Today, even kindergarteners face academic and social competition, fear of violence, and confusion over divorced parents. Stress can affect anyone who feels overwhelmed, regardless of age. In preschoolers, separation from parents causes the greatest anxiety. For older children, academic and social situations are the root of most stress. Because children suffering from stress may not be able to identify the cause, adults need to watch for warning signs.
Recognizing Signs of Stress
Children often exhibit stress differently than adults. The younger the child, the less likely that the trouble is communicated verbally. Adults should think in the context of what is "normal" for that child's age group. While questioning adult authority is natural for teenagers, such behavior should be looked at more closely for a seven-year-old. Regression to younger behaviors can also indicate stress. If a fully toilet-trained five-year-old begins to wet the bed again, stress may be the culprit. Kids can also show "adult" symptoms of stress, such as irritation, change in appetite, or trouble sleeping.
Results from Childhood Stress
The consequences of childhood stress vary with the child. When children experience mild, short-term stress (such as a challenging test at school), there are usually no long-term consequences. However, the more stressors a child has to endure, the less control the child has, and the higher the involvement of a loved one in inflicting the stress, then the long-term consequences are more severe.
A Grandparent's Role
Children are more sensitive to their environment than many adults realize. No matter how bad things are, never use your grandchild as a sympathetic ear to unload your troubles. Although some children may appear impervious to stress, no child has the inner resources to handle adult stress. Instead, become a listening ear for your grandchild. Love and caring among family is the best way to trump difficult times.
Tell your grandchildren that you will love them no matter what. Make yourself available whether by phone, email, mail, or in person to talk about your grandchildren's troubles. Empathize with your grandchild's feelings. Don't minimize feelings, even if the instance seems ridiculous by adult standards. By not criticizing your grandchild, conversation will continue. And, by showing
interest in your grandchild's life, regardless of his or her age, you demonstrate your love.
Whenever you have time to spend with your grandchild, let it be fun and relaxing. Kids today don't have enough time to play. According to University of Michigan researchers, seventy-five percent of a child's day is tightly programmed with carefully-outlined activities. Time without rigid structure allows kids to unwind and be creative and resourceful.
What's normal, what's not?
Remember that some level of stress is normal, and at times, desirable. Let your grandchild know that it is acceptable to feel angry, scared, lonely, or anxious, and that other people share his or her feelings. Preventing exposure to overwhelming stress is important, but experiencing normal, life stress promotes the development of coping mechanisms.
Always seek professional attention when stress is causing significant problems with your grandchild's functioning at school or at home.
Lauren Teegarden, a high school senior, lives in Portland, Oregon. With grandparents of her own, Lauren recognized the value of strong grandparent-grandchild interactions and started "The Grandparent Connection," a free monthly email newsletter with articles, advice, and activities for grandparents. Visit her website, www.thegrandparentconnection.org, to sign up for the newsletter.