Grandparents raising grandchildren: Part six

Building strong families through communication.

In the Together We Can program, from Michigan State University Extension, six characteristics of a strong family are outlined. These characteristics are true for all types of families; two parent, single parent, divorced/separated. These characteristics can also be applied to grandparents raising grandchildren who are striving to have a strong family.

Six Characteristics of a Strong Family:

  • They have a commitment to each other and make their relationships to each other a priority.
  • They let each other know on a daily basis that they are appreciated.
  • They spend time together.
  • They believe in a greater power and have shared beliefs.
  • They are able to cope with difficulties and crises.
  • Finally, they talk to each other about small things and big issues.

Keeping the lines of communication open with your grandchildren may be a challenge. When under stress, children may have a difficult time expressing emotions and talking about their thoughts and feelings. Your grandchildren are more than likely dealing with strong emotions such as grief, guilt, anger, insecurity, embarrassment, and hope for a reunion with their parents. Holding these feelings in or pretending they don’t exist is not good for your grandchildren or for you emotionally, socially or physically. So, how do you get them to talk and how do you let them know you are listening?

Here are some ways for maintaining open and honest communication from

  • Plan family talk times daily without the distraction of television, games or cell phones. Meal times are an ideal time to have everyone in the same place, at the same time.
  • Encourage your grandchildren to talk about all feelings, good and bad. Listen with an open heart and avoid judging.
  • Give your grandchildren words for their feelings. “You seem to be upset. Are you okay? Do you want to talk?”
  • Say, “I don’t know.” You don’t have to know all the answers. If you don’t know when their parents are coming home, for example, be honest about it.

In addition, the University of Wisconsin-Extension recommends the following:

  • Avoid telling too much, especially for young children. Some details may be too scary and cause confusion which will end up doing more harm than good.
  • Avoid telling too little or nothing at all. Children notice. If children hear things from someone other than you, they may feel hurt or deceived. They may avoid coming to you for other concerns.
  • Never twist the facts or lie to the child. Even children understand the difference between a truth and a lie. Eventually, they find out the truth and may think you are not a person they can trust. Be honest at the level of their understanding.

Good communication leads to good family relationships. Be a good listener and use kind words with your grandchildren. Try to see things from their perspective, even if you don’t agree. They will come to know you are a person they can trust and rely on no matter what. In addition, you are teaching them some useful life tools of positive communication. 

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