Millions of children worldwide are currently in the custody of their grandparents or other family members due to their parents’ inability or unwillingness to care for them. While the children may be grateful for the loving care that their grandparents provide they will undoubtedly have questions about their parents and it is up to the grandparents to address the children’s concerns.
When children come to their grandparents with questions about their family, they need and deserve honest answers. Kids often have their own ideas about the dynamic within their families and may even have a pretty accurate picture of the family’s challenges.
Overheard conversations and titbits of facts that they have gathered may have given them insight into the reasons that they do not live with their parents, but even with a sketchy picture of the overall situation, they are likely to have questions regarding many issues.
Age Appropriate Information
Questions deserve answers. Those answers must be delivered in a gentle way, though, and the information offered must be appropriate for the age and emotional readiness of the child.
Often, young children simply want to know where their parents are and if they are alright. They may also feel sad about losing contact with their mum and dad.
Older kids and teens are likely to have in-depth questions and may express anger or resentment toward their parents. Kids of all ages should be allowed and encouraged to express their emotions, rather than bottling them up.
It is perfectly normal for kids to be sad, frightened or even angry, but they need to find ways to deal with the range of emotions.
Sometimes, talking to a family counsellor can help kids to sort out their feelings and realize that they have a right to feel whatever it is that they feel.
Children often have concerns regarding the permanence of their living situation and may have fears of abandonment, especially if they have memories of abuse or neglect.
Additionally, kids may feel responsible for the shortcomings of their parents, so they need to be reassured that children are never to blame for the choices made by the adults in their lives.
Finally, children who have been made to feel unloved or unwanted may feel that they are undeserving of love. Extra attention and outward displays of affection can go a long way toward making children feel wanted and worthy of love.
While all children need to be told and shown that they are valued, kids who have been left behind by their parents may need additional reassurance.
Grandparents can make a big difference by making sure that their grandkids not only know that they are loved, but also that caring for them is something that is done willingly and happily.
Easing Their Minds
While grandparents are likely to have their own feelings and opinions about their grown children, it is important that they exercise discretion when talking to the grandchildren about their parents.
Children often feel that if their parents are “bad,” then they must be bad, too. For this reason, grandparents should avoid letting their own anger or disappointment color their judgment when explaining the family situation to the grandkids.
Explaining that sometimes, people become parents before they are mature enough to handle the responsibilities is often sufficient.
In cases where the parents are absent because of sickness, mental illness or addictions, it might be beneficial to help older kids and teens to research the illness to help them gain an understanding of their parents’ limitations.
When Parents will be Returning
Sometimes, grandparents take permanent custody of their grandchildren, while other situations require only temporary care until the children’s parents can get back on their feet.
Depending on several factors including the children’s memories of living with their parents and the length of time that they have been staying with their grandparents, making the move back into their parents’ home may be difficult for the kids.
It is common for them to be anxious, remembering the circumstances of the past, but if the parents have truly changed and are ready to be responsible parents, the support of the grandparents, who the children have learned to trust, can help ease the transition.
Additionally, if the kids have stayed with their grandparents for an extended period of time, they may have grown emotionally unattached to their parents, making them feel as if they are about to move in with “strangers.” If this is the case, it may be best to make the transition gradually, allowing the parents to visit with the kids in order to re-establish a relationship before taking them full-time.
This would give everyone time to better adjust to the changes.