Summer Vacation Tips for Grandparents Raising Grandkids

Summer can be amazing.  Really.  

Set limited, and realistic, goals for changing or keeping hard-fought-progress in good behaviors and life skill acquisition this summer.  Don’t try to accomplish too much and allow lots of time for making  lazy, hazy, crazy summer memories.

Family fun lets you painlessly sneak in life skill lessons.  

Lessons like, “Wait your turn; share, men cook, or changing a , “I need $20,” to “what can I do to earn $20?”

Start transitioning before school ends.

Kids of trauma don’t do well with change (transitions) so start talking about summer plans and summer rules early.

Using behavioral contracts can be effective with pre-teens and teens, “If I get up and make my bed without being told five days in a row I get to (fill in blank).  It gets buy-in up front and there is no room for, “I forgot, I didn’t say that, etc.”

Make the last day of school/first day of summer special, whether going for ice cream or hosting a pool party–especially if your grandchild is sad about leaving their teacher or friends for the summer.

Kids of trauma need structure.

Establish summer bedtimes, screen time limits, as well as when, where and for how long they can hang with friends. Post daily, weekly and one time chore lists. Place a family activity white board in a central location. List dentist, doctor, and counseling appointments, along with camps and small adventures like trips to library, waterparks or helping a teen learn to drive.  Include the whole family, when possible, in volunteer projects whether placing flags on Veteran’s graves or making a meal to take to Ronald McDonald’s House.

Use stickers for little ones.

 

 

 

Trip to zoo.

 

 

Summer camps provide structures and social interaction.  They also teach skills (ball, science, crafts).  Win-win. There is no better job for young teens than getting to be junior counselor (helper) and working up to paid summer-long positions as they mature. Jobs take up spare time, they teach responsibility and there is supervision.

 Opportunities + Opposition = Growth

With each responsibility toddlers through teens accept they deserve more freedom. Sometimes this is a tough lesson for parents–letting go gradually and tightening back up if they misstep, but always letting them try again.  It’s how we all learn.

As parents:

  • Be open to learning new parenting techniques.
  • Talk about birth parents and not-so-happy, as well as happy, life experiences and memories.
  • Accept, rather than fight about, things that don’t matter.  The color or cut of hair shouldn’t be an issue if it’s clean, as long as not a culturally negative message such as gang identification.  Once youth reach the age of job interviews this may have to be re-evaluated.
  • Be a parent, not a buddy.  Set boundaries, consistently enforce consequences, praise out loud (only for honest effort or achievements though), and say “no” when safety or inappropriate behaviors need to be stopped.
  • Meet every friend and their parents. Ask about (ignore the eye rolls and “no one else’s parents” propaganda) parental supervision, guns in the home, drugs (medical and legal recreational), screen limits on content and/or time.
  • Listen before you pass judgement –things do happen that are out of your child’s control.  The problem is if there is a pattern of “not my fault”.  Make consequences fit behavior.  Remember grounding, or taking away a privilege grounds you too, or turns you into the warden.  Better to talk about, “What could you have done differently? Or, what can you do now (like maybe call and apologize or make a list of emergency numbers to call when they can’t reach you next time and curfew looms.)”

Don’t forget that miracles are all around us. Model thankfulness, kindness and having a sense of humor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Drawn by Lola, my great grandniece).

Kid Thuggery & Other Holiday Happiness Stealers

Tree trimmed, presents mostly wrapped and stashed behind the couch, shopping list for Christmas dinner growing, and your child or grandchild’s behavior suddenly excels past naughty to out-of-control.

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Do you destroy all hope for a ‘calm and bright’ holiday by grounding them, cancelling favorite events like winter prom, solstice party, or a trip to see Santa?

Do you shutdown the family vacation plans? Un-invite the rest of your adult kids and their kids?  Or do you try to muddle through?

None of the above.  You handle misbehaviors with consequences that relate to their actions–not to family traditions and once-a-year (or once-a-life-time) events.

Anxiety, Fear, Bitterness, Anger.

Realize that kids’ stress levels, regardless if toddler or teen, rise with special events due to past experiences involving their mom and/or dad and gets tangled up what they see and hear in media.  The Hallmark channel of eternal good endings. Also, recognize that while other kids at school are talking about presents, trips and fun, they may be remembering domestic violence, passed out parents, a police person at their door, or prison visits.  They want, as my own adopted grandson Chad said when he was in his early twenties, “…just a few happy memories with my mom.” Or they may want a few happy memories without their mom.

Control.

We all need to feel in control of our lives.  They can’t control their past, or their parents–whether they are currently in or out of their lives–so they try to protect themselves from further hurt subconsciously by acting out.  They try to force you into becoming ‘the bad guy’ so, in the crazy way immature brains process, they can prevent anticipated let downs and/or keep mom or dad safely in a fictional role where they are the victim rather than the problem. They reason, “nothing good ever happens to me,” so they do their best to make sure it doesn’t.

Don’t buy in.  Refuse to take away opportunities for family and fun.  Don’t reinforce their faulty thinking and ultimately make your life harder.   After all, you end up in house arrest with them, and often take the brunt of their mounting frustration and anger.  

Instead, give consequences that counteract bad behaviors.  If it expands their awareness of others’ feelings so much the better.  For example, if they hit their brother then have them read their brother a bedtime story about bullying.  If they put their fist through a wall, they repair it right alongside you, or they earn the money doing chores to pay to have it repaired.  Keep the consequence duration, and the talk time preceding it, as short and focused as possible.  

Then go do something else that will limit their opportunity to disengage, or ramp-up their anger, further.  If they like sports then sign them up for a Parks & Recreation martial arts class or get them involved in youth hockey.  Suggest they invite a friend and drive them to a comic book store, a favorite band concert, or together paint pottery. Engage them in what interest them, not you.

The holiday you save will be your own.  The future you invest in is joint-owned.

 

 

10 Tips for a successful school year.

School is about academics, but also the building of a child’s character, emotional growth, and expanding relationships outside of the family. Keeping expectations of your grandchild realistic and balanced will decrease your stress level while increasing their self-confidence.

Tip One.  Grades are important, but they don’t always reflect a student’s efforts, rather their test-taking ability–and in subjects such as English they incorporate intangibles such as cultural experiences and teacher/student interactions.image002 2  If your child is failing (or performing under potential) analyze why.  Do they need glasses? A tutor? Rewards or consequences? Help learning how to study, take test, communicate with teachers/peers, or time management guidance? Once you isolate the why, solutions become possible.   

Tip Two.  Designate a quiet place for homework, and a time for doing it. Praise effort and offer encouragement. Help, but don’t take over (says the mom who almost collapsed trying to follow 12 pages of instructions for building a trebuchet).

Tip Three.  Get professional help for cognitive, behavioral, or physical problems impacting learning. School counselors aren’t a substitute for private practice counseling–schools have limited resources and many students. The Oregon Health Plan, and most other state plans and private insurance, offer mental health benefits.

All students with learning disabilities by law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) are entitled to free testing and the development and implementation of an individual education plan (IEP). Helpful website: http://www.specialeducationguide.com/pre-k-12/.

Tip Four.  Request teachers whose teaching styles match your grandchild’s needs whether it’s for structure, schedules and posted rules, or self-directed study and/or group projects. If the principal resists ask, “Who else can I speak to?” And do it.

Tip Five.  Keep personal information personal unless necessary for child’s safety or special program eligibility. Assume anything shared with administrators, teachers, volunteers, or support staff will be repeated and/or become part of their school record. This is not a negative reflection on our wonderful professionals–rather a by product of the system and all it’s imperfections…things just happen.  Inaccurate, or negative, labels can impact a student forever.

Tip Six.  Attend all planning and disciplinary meetings.  Listen, but don’t agree to anything until after you hear what your grandchild says when it’s just the two of you. Help them admit if they are wrong. Help them learn: life isn’t fair but that isn’t a reason to give up, everyone has to pick their battles including you, and when to go to the mat for them (or in their case what they believe in).

Tip Seven.  Get kids what they need to succeed including Internet access (which can be the library, a neighbor, or through low-cost student Internet Access plans from providers); required calculators, textbooks, clothes, etc.  

Tip Eight.  Encourage extracurricular activities they like. Introduce yourself to coaches, teachers or other mentors such as faith group leaders, scoutmasters, or big brothers/sisters.  Consistently show up to watch. From preschool through high school, I always met my daughter and grandson’s friends and their parents. A few times I vetoed inappropriate activities or sleepovers where parental supervision was questionable. I wasn’t their best friend..but then a parent isn’t supposed to be.

Tip Nine.  Ask for help. Call the Department of Aging, or DHS, to see if they have any money for a special activity, or supplies, you can’t afford, or for suggestions of others to contact.  Check out clothes closets and faith organizations. 211 is an excellent resource for general information.

Scan 112480000Tip Ten.  If your grandchild has a bad day, recognize that it won’t last forever. Talk about what went well, what did not, and what can be done differently next time. By unpacking the baggage your grandkids came with piece by piece every aspect of their life–including school–will improve.

 

Handling Holidays When Raising Grandkids

 

IMG_2974Holidays happen year round so keep reminding yourself that you need to be in control. Children, and you, deserve safe, fun, faith-filled (if faith is part of your family’s traditions) holidays. Youngsters need memories of peaceful, happy days to know what is possible.  They need to experience ‘normal’ so they can pass ‘normal’ on when they parent.  So make it happen. 

A using addict or alcoholic should not be invited and/or allowed at family (meaning with you, their kids, or other family members) events.  If you are under court order–then keep their participation separate.  Schedule it at another time, place, and preferably day other than when traditionally celebrated.

IMG_0266Activities:

Let your children or grandchildren you are raising help with the planning for all events that you and sober family members attend.  Give them areas of responsibility where they can shine…let one be in-charge of taking pictures of everyone, another sending out evites or mailed invitations, etc.

Try something different.  If you routinely open gifts on Christmas Eve then do it Christmas Day, go out of town, swap houses with another local family for the week, or have another family member host…just don’t sit and revisit bad memories.

Help someone else.  Volunteer at the school to paint faces if they are holding a fall festival.  Take the family to a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving and do whatever chores are needed.  Ask someone, who you know will be alone, to come Trick or Treating with you just to change things up.

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Thoughts to keep you sane:

  • Hosting ‘alcohol free’ family events does not keep the alcoholic from drinking. They will arrive under the influence or stash away a supply in your home, their car, the bushes or “pop out for a cigarette or air” and head to the nearest store.
  • No one likes to think of their son, daughter or partner alone on a holiday, but they make it the other 364 days a year, and to someone with an addiction problem everyday of the year holds the same risks of overdose or other things that you can’t control. Only the user can do the things that will help them get, and stay, sober.
  • If the biological parent is typically a ‘no show’ don’t mention to smaller children that their parent is coming for any holiday interactions regardless of where or when it’s being held.  As they get older, discuss before hand the probability that the parent won’t show, they’ll be late or using, or things won’t be so good. Together come up with an alternative plan to get you and the children out of the house and doing something fun.  Don’t reschedule if mom or dad is a ‘no show’ or so late that you have moved on to Plan B, and don’t forget to keep a written log of incidents to share with your caseworker, or the judge, if needed in the future.

Standing alone…together.

“We Stand Alone Together.”  search

They were men of the 101st Airborne Brigade.  Members of Easy Company. Soldiers of war.

I watched We Stand Alone Together and other parts of the WWII television documentary Band of Brothers honoring Easy Company and the contributions they made to the allied victory.  It was a testimony to the courage of individual men, the vision and tenacity of leaders (who weren’t always identifiable by rank) and the solidarity of American home support.

I watched it on the third anniversary of the 9/11 attack.  The day the world changed forever for Americans and our allies.  Changed forever one more time.  In Paris, Boston, Manchester, Alexandria terrorists keep adding hate, violence and death to the “changed forever one more time.”

Interspersed throughout the battle reenactments, surviving soldiers recalled friends, enemies and history.  These now elderly gentlemen sacrificed much to give us the gift of a safe homeland, a gift that lasted nearly fifty years.

I thought they deserved to be heard before they and their memories pass on –even if I was only one listener, alone in the dark.  Touched by their motto, which came from a Native American name for a mountain where they trained.  We stand alone is a worthy mantra.

I am my brother’s keeper, but only if I am worthy.  I have to be willing to stand alone, before others will trust me to stand alongside them.

We stand alone together when we say, “Not in this house,” and turn off the vulgar, the violent, the lewd and the offensive–whether it’s a television show, a song, a radio disc jockey, a hateful rant, political lie, or a video game.  It makes it easier for other parents, and for our children when they begin to parent.

We stand alone together when we say, “You’re out of here” to politicians, athletes, entertainers and businesspersons who want a free ride and no accountability. When we say, “You’re out of here” to those who use drugs or break laws or violate our youth; to those who shoplift, are unkind, or drink and drive.  To those who kill others they don’t even know because they feed on hate and dishonor their families, their nation.  

We stand alone together when we say, “Come for Thanksgiving Dinner or because I can see you are stressed or hungry, or new to the neighborhood” and start the celebration by giving thanks.  It may be listening to a Native American drummer, a Scottish bagpipe, a poem, or a prayer written by the youngest member of the family.  It may be by asking each guest to express what he or she is thankful for, or it may be a moment of silence to remember, honor and praise.  It may be a compliment, a smile, or simply, “I understand what you are saying, and hopefully we can agree to disagree but still be friends.”

We stand alone together when we send words of thanks to veterans in our hospitals and soldiers in Iraq and throughout the world–and help their struggling families in their absences.

We stand alone together when wherever we go, there we are.

So, sixteen years ago I wrote the above except for the sentences in blue. It published in Portland Family Magazine in, my then monthly column, “Family Gram”™ which I retained rights to–for moments like this I guess.  I updated it two years ago.  Today, there is nothing I would change except to add that we stand alone together by being strong against that which is bad and that which is evil (and they are different). We need to be as strong for championing what is right and good.  We do this in our homes, our courtrooms and with boots on the ground when it is absolutely necessary. Today, for our children and grandchildren, it is absolutely necessary.

“Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.  America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”  Written by the French philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville when he came to America in the 1830’s.  searchsearch-1