Sunday, September 30, 2012

Helping Grandchildren with Grandparent Divorce

When grandparents divorce grandchildren may be confused, angry and/or sad about grandparents separating. They may have questions like, “If they quit loving each other will they quit loving me?” The questions they ask can be hard to answer and throw you off guard.

My plan was to give my children a short answer as to why Grandma and Grandpa do not want to live together anymore, and hope my kids didn’t bring it up again. Unfortunately the short answer did not satisfy my four year old. He wanted to know if they would ever get back together, or if we could teach them to get along. When he visited either of my parents he would be upset because the other grandparent wasn’t there. I came to find that my child’s response was not uncommon.  

To aid in the grieving process it is good to let children know that the decision to live at separate houses is final. A child having false hope that their grandparents will move back together is not good for accepting this change. You can gently tell them something like, “They tried everything they could and it did not work. Now they feel the best decision is to live in separate houses.”

It is important to point out to children that their love from their grandparents will not change. Just because Grandma and Grandpa do not love each other, it doesn’t mean that they will quit loving them. Be intentional about having children spend time with Grandma and Grandpa. This can help children see that Grandma and Grandpa are still the same.

Children may be concerned that mom and dad will split up too. My child asked me several times when I was going to move out like Grandma did. Letting your child know that just because Grandma and Grandpa separated doesn’t mean mom and dad will too, can help them not feel this anxiety.

Children often communicate their anxiety with behaviors. Doing things like drawing pictures, asking them questions about how they are feeling and reading books like, “When Grandparents Divorce” can help children adjust more quickly and reduce any negative feelings they might have.

For older children you can address the issues directly. Explain to them what will change and what will stay the same.
EX: “Grandma will live at ____, and grandpa will live at _______. Holidays will be like ______. Grandma and grandpa still love you just the same and are excited for you to come visit them.”

Allow children of all ages to ask as many questions as they like and try to be open and honest with them. Avoid talking bad about either grandparent. Keep in mind as you talk with them that you would like to preserve the relationship between the grandchild and the grandparent.

Remember these two important tips:
  1.       If you feel like your children are struggling, and you don’t feel like you have all the tools you want to handle it, see a counselor.   A counselor or therapist can help your whole family process through this major life change.
  2.       Any child going through a hard time will benefit from extra quality time with a loved one.

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