• Linda Van Meter

What is more heartwarming than a grandchild’s laughter or joyful embrace? As grandparents, we enjoy our grandchildren and the happiness they bring us and we are saddened when they are struggling. Although we may not anticipate having difficult conversations with our grandchildren, there are times when events occur that we may not feel adequately prepared to respond.

The world we live in has become more anxiety-provoking and complicated, including for today’s grandchildren. Being mindful that how we as grandparents experience life on a daily basis is not necessarily how our grandchildren may be experiencing their daily lives; their world is different than our world.

A parent’s divorce, death of a loved one, feelings of depression and anxiety, these are a few situations that may make for difficult conversations with a grandchild. Cyber bullying, social media, the threat of school shootings, the COVID pandemic- our grandchildren have become part of an adult world while still children.

At these times, it may be difficult knowing what to say and what to do. When a grandchild confides in a grandparent, he/she must feel safe and secure in the relationship, and confident that a grandparent can help them sort through their feelings. Even if a grandparent may not feel confident, and may not have all the answers, using a few guiding principles will help to be better prepared to provide comfort in their grandchild’s time of need.

These challenges present opportunities for growth, where grandchildren can learn confidence in facing problems and experience a sense of competency, essential to the development of their self-esteem. How can that happen? With a grandparent as a co-pilot alongside their grandchild to help them navigate turbulent times together.

The relationship between parent and child, and grandparent and grandchild, is different, in a good way. Grandchildren can feel freer to share their innermost feelings with a grandparent without feeling the pressure they are disappointing or worrying their parents. Grandparents are a valuable resource in a supportive role as their grandchildren are learning how to deal with their feelings, developing problem-solving skills and coping strategies, and learning about perspective.

Grandparents may think they are unable to relate to the challenges our grandchildren face, however, feelings of anxiety, sadness, fear and being overwhelmed are universal; the settings may be different, but the feelings are the same. Grandparents can share their experience with a similar situation to their grandchildren and how they handled their emotions. Leading by example, a grandparent can share how they also cope with worry or sadness and what they do to feel better. Reassurance goes a long way in helping a child to cope with feelings.

Creating an atmosphere that encourages communication early in the grandparenting relationship is important. Providing a non-judgmental setting for conversation and questions, where grandparents are good listeners, are interested in the smallest details of their grandchildren’s lives, and where grandchildren are encouraged to express feelings about anything, establishes a safe place for them to vent. With unconditional love, grandchildren are more apt to open up and talk about their intimate feelings, their secrets, and what is troubling them the most, while seeking acceptance and approval to validate their feelings.

Key points to remember:

Tailor responses to the age and level of the grandchild. Be present in the conversation, listen attentively and without judgment, lead with empathy, be accepting (even if you don’t understand the situation), give reassurance, be genuine, allow for silence. Try different settings, taking a walk, playing a game or engage in an activity while having a conversation.

The good news is that grandchildren have grandparents as co-pilots!

Linda L. Van Meter, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice, retired Director of Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) and OASIS (Office of Disability Services), The Office of Accessible Services Individualized for Students East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.

Please join us for our next virtual online presentation April 7 at 10 a.m. when Dr. Linda Van Meter will present about difficult conversations with grandkids and younger generations.

This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. For more information, please visit www.MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.