Five-ish Things That Kids Learn in Families


“What we remember from childhood we remember forever…”   Cynthia Ozick, American writer 1928.

Young children, and teens, sometimes have values, priorities, behaviors and feelings that they have to unlearn, or re-channel if they have been exposed to traumatic life events, or unhealthy behaviors by their parents. It can be a long, slow process but don't give up.  Healthy life skills, coping mechanisms and trust building come from watching you, as well as, being given opportunities to experiment, grow and change. 

The parameters of ‘normal’.

Family life is a microscopic version of the world. It’s where children and teens learn to interact with others. Learn how they fit into social and work (chores or working for others) relationships.  It’s where they learn boundaries and where they learn to evaluate what is acceptable, unacceptable or just plain bizarre behavior.

Often, if tragedy or abuse occurs in a child’s life, they tend to expect bad things unless we help them put things in perspective. It should be every parenting adult’s goal to help kiddos see that life is a series of possibilities–not just a steady stream of problems.

How to handle feelings and conflict.

It can be especially hard for youth who have been threatened or punished for “talking back” to engage in any conversations that they know would have triggered a violent reaction in their mom or dad.  However, their day-to-day success, as well as all ongoing and future relationships rely on their learning how to give and receive feedback honestly, respectfully, and at appropriate times.

If kids yell obscenities, hit, walk away when you are talking with them, or demonstrate other extreme behaviors create a cooling off period, and then explain rules of engagement.  Let them practice when they are calm saying “I” statements that don’t threaten or demean. Role play examples they can relate to such as, “I feel scared when you yell, like you just did.  I know that the odds of a plane crashing are very slim, however, it makes my stomach hurt when you make fun of me for not wanting to fly because that’s how my parents died.  It’s my turn to decide what movie we are going to go see since you choose last week. Was there a reason you want to choose this week too?”

Feelings are honest.  It’s okay for children and teens to be angry, mad, sad, glad, silly or whatever.  What’s important is how feelings are expressed by words, voice tone, body language and timing. They learn respect as much from watching and listening to how you talk to others, and about others as they do from lectures or coaching. If a birth parent is, or was, abusive they may need professional counseling.

Being responsible isn’t easy.

Kids learn from experience–so even when it’s painful let them try new things or re-try old things in new ways giving them more and more control and responsibility. Let them make mistakes. Let them learn about natural consequences, and most important set them up to succeed.

Not all their efforts will be painless, or pretty, but from each attempt they will learn. Show them trust and respect by honestly praising successes (even partial) and together talk through events and feelings when things don’t turn out so well. Be open to their suggestions and be flexible.  When you can’t ‘flex’ explain “why”. Is it too expensive, are you overbooked, or is it simply too dangerous, illogical, or against your values?

Learning to be a good winner or a good loser.

Don’t believe the drivel that anyone can do anything they set their mind to.  I am 5’2″ and will never be 5’7″.  At seventy, I’m too old to become an Olympic champion in anything.  They too have some skills and gifts and some restrictions. If they have been cut from the high school varsity basketball team help them access the situation.  Would extra practice or coaching help?  Would joining a ‘rec’ team improve their future chances in high school, college and beyond?  Are they simply, at 5 foot, too short to compete unless they get a growth spurt?

Additionally, everyone cannot be best at everything.  If they try something and fail then they will have learned a little more about themselves and be better prepared when passed over for a job promotion or maybe learning that there are physical reasons that they cannot eat sugar without serious health consequences.

Sometimes winning comes easily.  They will be better served if they learn early on how to share the glory in a team sport or turn the spotlight to encouraging others.  “I am the greatest” (you fill in the blank) comments can quickly turn off others.

Values and ethics.

We live in a world where everything we do is quickly picked up, passed on and/or critiqued by others on social media.  It’s not easy to be bullied at school or work, but it’s mega multiplied when the bullying jumps to cyber and your child is exposed to ridicule from those he/she interacts with every day.

Since we can’t control everything that happens to our children as youngsters or young adults, we have to help them develop the self confidence and self worth to ride out the storms. Teens don’t always believe that character counts more than immediate popularity. However, surrounding them with family, mentors, good friends who share your family’s values and faith will help them mentally shrug and walk away or calmly say, “that’s not cool”.

Let them know that they aren’t victims and that asking for help from God or others takes courage and strength but we all need others…and we all can help others.

Met earlier this month in Seattle with a number of other grandfamily members (and Donna Butts from Generations United) at the Casey Leadership Retreat. Amazing people. Amazing organizations.

A letter from mom.

To my daughter.

It’s been nearly three years since we last talked.  A lifetime before that you got hooked on drugs…and then on alcohol. A lot’s happened in the past twenty seven years.

Yesterday was Father’s Day and I was, as happens occasionally, alone at church.  The tears leaked out when the music started.  You were there–but only as a whisper in my heart; a memory in my mind.

My life is better than I would ever have thought possible but sometimes the old dreams I had for you, for me, for us sneak back in and I mourn for what could have been. Sometimes, I shut these un-beckoned dreams of everyday things down, and sometimes, like yesterday, I let them stay awhile until I have to say goodbye, so I can survive.

Your oldest son, Chad, became my youngest son long before I adopted him. Maybe he and I started bonding as mother and son when I used to bring him home to babysit overnight and bathe away the smoke, and let him spend a day in dry diapers. Maybe it didn’t begin until I watched him tuck his little hand in the engulfing one of the transport volunteer who returned him to his foster home after the state stepped in. I’d like to think, even though he never looked back, that Chad knew I was there then and that I would always be there whenever he needed me.

Back then, I thought you’d make it.  Back then, I didn’t realize that drugs don’t give up.

At first, I was just another grandmother raising my grandson.

Abused by his birth dad.  Abused by you.  Chad deserved better…all kids do.  I spent my savings on attorneys.  I was strong during court hearings and sobbed my way through the nights.

He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress at age four.  He and I lived through years of his waking up nightly screaming from nightmares he couldn’t explain. We made it through years of his being afraid to let me out of his sight and his “I love you,” to me fifty times a day which was his way of saying, “I’m scared…”

Trauma and drama…drugs don’t give up.

Then I adopted Chad to keep him safe, and  because I loved him with my whole heart.

Cutting.  Suicidal.  Punching holes in walls. Swearing at me.

Remorse. Rewind. Replay once again.

We made it through. Now he is a man.

Yesterday, I wished him Happy Father’s Day.  His little girl is now 18-months-old and a charmer.  I see in her your self-determination and a bit of your curly hair as twice a week we (my husband (her beloved Papa)) and I take care of her so her mama and daddy can go to work.  

What you’ll never know is baby kisses beat drug highs, and even messy diapers are better than alcohol lows.

I miss Chad’s half sisters–your daughters, my granddaughters.  From you, them, and Facebook, I know the oldest lost her virginity at twelve, her slightly younger sister, who I always wanted to scoop up and cuddle because she seemed so sad, posted, “Why can’t anyone see me…I’m hurting too”), and their baby sister who you said told her fifth grade counselor that she had been raped.

We’ve all been raped, tattered and torn. Meth, opioids, alcohol—drugs abuse  families.

I won’t give up, but everyday I try letting go.

 

 

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).

Grandparents’ feelings; grandparents’ footsteps…


You’ll feel the collective sadness, anger, hope, and “we can do this” attitudes that co-exist when grandparents raising grandkids get together.

May 10th an expected thousand plus parenting grandparents, from across the nation, will gather in Washington D.C. to spotlight their needs and find help in solving the underlying problems.

Every relative caregiver, whether forty or eighty, lives a Just Do It life.  ‘It’ being restoring childhoods and securing futures for grandchildren whose parents are addicted to opioids, other drugs, or alcohol.  ‘It’ being parenting temporarily, or permanently, infants, tweens and teens whose moms or dads are on military deployments, incarcerated, deceased or are just very young.

Sometimes these family warriors need help. By uniting in the capitol’s plaza, and meeting one-on-one with Senators and Representatives from their own states, or by sharing their stories the grandparents want to focus attention on foster care and other federal funding and policies.

They aren’t asking for more money, they are asking for system efficiencies and equal access for grandparents in or out of the system. Many need legal help to obtain custody, guardianship or adoption to help with school enrollment, access to medical care and/or counseling for traumatized or vulnerable youth.

They want a hand up, not hand out. Independence and dignity is important to them.

I understand. I am one of them. I adopted my oldest grandson, Chad, who was physically abused as a toddler and diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) when four. Chad is now twenty-five and successfully launched; we’re both out of the trenches paying forward.

Together, we wrote the book Raising Children of Alcoholics & Drug Users to help others, whether they are dealing with visitations when grandkids cry before they go, or punch holes in walls when they return, have trouble saying “no” to their adult child, or are terrified of technology and drug dangers for youth.

These grandparents aren’t complainers or quitters. But often you hear desperation in their voices and see tears in their eyes. Mostly, I’m humbled by their determination to do what they have to do to give their grandkids happy, secure, and as normal as possible childhoods going forward.

So while I don’t hear, “Poor me”, I do hear, “I’m dying and need to find a home for my grandson.” “I have PTSD from Vietnam and having three little ones under seven makes it worse…sometimes I just have to leave and let my 70-year-old wife deal with the chaos.” “My daughter threatens to take the kids and tells me that I’ll never see them if I apply for food stamps and housing supplements and hers is taken away–so I try to make my social security stretch.” “I don’t want to ask for help…I’ll just work until I’m eighty because my grandson needs 24-hour group housing.” “Melissa and Chavez are doing really well but I feel bad because my other grandchildren don’t understand why grandma does so much for their cousins and not for them.”

Last year 29 percent of children in foster care were being raised by relatives and for every child in relative foster care another twenty were being brought up by grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles outside of the system saving tax payers 4 billion dollars annually.[1]

Generations United, Casey Family Programs, and other child and senior focused groups are spearheading this up-coming May gathering to educate legislators. They need your help.

Go to https://grandrally2017.org for more information about the rally and ways you can help grandparents raising grandchildren by fund raising or contacting your congressional representatives.

[1] Generation United, State of Grandfamilies in America: 2016.

 

Stop feeling guilty for loving, or not loving, a family addict.

BreakersThe continual drama and trauma that surrounds addicts, takes its toll on the emotions and relationships of the users’ partners, parents, siblings, and their kids.

The ‘normal’ progression of parenting roles changes from caretaker to coach to cheerleader to mentor and friend. With drugs or alcohol the progression regresses, especially for grandparents raising grandkids, eventually forcing a decision between care-taking little ones or their parent.

For years I’ve couldn’t articulate how I felt about my daughter because I vacillated between, sadness, guilt, anger and wanting to believe she would change leaving me saying, “I’m done,” followed up hours, days or months later with, “one more time”.

When I discovered she was first using, first arrested, first pregnant, first on public assistance, first in prison, first embezzling from a friend who gave her a job, and so on it was difficult. I grasped for every excuse for her behavior, until the “firsts” turned into reruns and spinoffs. Eventually I admitted, when a counselor asked me, that I didn’t like my daughter’s behaviors, didn’t like the person she had become. I still couldn’t say I didn’t love her–it seemed inexcusable for a mom and “un-Christian like”.

Today, I think love can’t survive long-time when you are being lied to and emotionally abused. Love can withstand your heart being broken, but possibly not as you watch your grandkids’ hearts on the line. Watching them cry when mom or dad is arrested and their picture is on the news, or as a second-grader they are left sitting forgotten on the school steps, or as a high schooler they try to ignore their drunk dad in the stands at school at 9 AM when their playing basketball. It’s also really, really difficult when you see your other adult children and their kids being hurt by your choices regarding the addict’s choices.

My daughter is not in my life anymore physically but I still pray for her most days, and still hope that she turns her life around. I’m just done holding my breath or wanting to be part of the up and down process.

“I love him/her.  I hate him/her.”  

You don’t need anyone’s permission, or approval, to feel a certain way. And you don’t owe anyone–including the addict, or other children, an explanation.  Unless others have been in your shoes, they can’t imagine the pain, the tug-of-war of emotions, or the struggle to survive.

It’s easy to continue to ‘love’ the memory of the child we raised, the partner we married. What is harder to define, and accept, is how we feel today. Sometimes we are mad at the user, other times we try overly hard to protect them, and sometimes we even tip over to enabling bad behaviors. Sometimes. we are just plain done.

In the end, if you parent minors–yours or grandkids–then their needs must come first.  Don’t let emotions stop you from doing the right thing, and sometimes it takes an outsider like a counselor, pastor, social worker or trusted friend to help you prioritize, help you succeed in following through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awesome Things Happen when Raising Grandkids.

Dark times happen–or you wouldn’t be parenting your child’s child. These dark times can be scary and depressing. But, wow, the dark makes the littlest things sparkle, and it often forces you onto wonderful new paths.

Years ago, I was broken heartedly loading my three-year-old grandson Chad, and his possessions, into my car to drive him to to live with his alcoholic birth dad. As I struggled to keep from crying Chad pulled a match box car from his pocket saying, “Grandma this is for you.”

Eight months later, the courts returned a physically and emotionally abused Chad to my custody.  His counselor said his daily tears, fears and angry outbursts were a result of Post Traumatic Stress.  It was another two years before I heard Chad laugh-out-loud in response to something he was watching on TV.  Sparkles to my ears; sparkles to my heart and I still have–and treasure–that little car.

Lots of tough times in between then and now, but looking back a lot of good things wouldn’t have happened if the gift, and challenge, of Chad hadn’t come into my life: 

♥ Traded a career in corporate America to became a work-from-home free-lance writer.  When Chad was eight, he and I went on an all-expense paid press trip to Hawaii with just twenty-five dollars in my pocket. Got to do things, I could never afford–then or now–on my own.

♥ Wrote three books–the latest, Raising Children of Alcoholics & Drug Users, I co-authored  with Chad.

♥ I speak nationally to grandparent groups and the professionals who support them.  Inspires and humbles me every time.

♥ I participated in a White House briefing in 2015 on needed revisions for foster and relative-care families.

♥ Re-married and now have seven kids calling me “mom”.  Gained 18 more siblings (including spouses) and have rafted at Glacier, enjoyed high tea at Lake Louise, and even went to Australia and New Zealand–fifteen years after our promised ‘honeymoon’ was postponed and very low budget but there!

♥ Made life-long friends through Chad’s school, scouting, church and sports activities; most of these parents are younger by a decade or two than Bob, my husband, or myself but youthful & older parents give each other balance.

♥ Attended first ‘Mom’s weekend’ when Chad was a freshman in college. Special forever memory.

♥ Danced the mother/son dance at Chad’s wedding–a five star heart memory.

♥ Deepened my faith life and now I’m at peace, rather than constantly worrying and trying to figure things out.

♥ Hear “Hi mom” whenever Chad, or our other kids, come through the door and “I love you” texts are exchanged–things I thought lost when my daughter, who I adopted at birth, got caught-up with drugs & alcohol.

Sure there are a lot of bad memories and downsides:  A Christmas Eve day in a CARES evaluation waiting room while Chad was being examined by doctors, years of interrupted sleep, lots of lost friends, my daughter rushed to the hospital for an overdose and heart-wrenching courtroom testimony about her life, reduced retirement funds, and so on but each day passes into oblivion and we move on.

Like me, someday you’ll find yourself in a totally different place than you would have been if you had not stepped in and parented your grandchild(ren) or another child needing your love.  I’m guessing you will find it bittersweet–but more sweet than bitter.

You never trade one child for another.  My adult daughter (Chad’s birth mom) is in my thoughts most days, and I pray that God has placed someone in her life to help her–and my three granddaughter that I don’t get to see–through the things I could not. Hardest thing I’ve ever done is to not try to find her after more than twenty years of being in and out of touch.

Bad memories eventually fade if we let them; good memories become great over time.  In the end, love and memories are all we really leave behind.  I adopted Chad. What a gift to me.

“Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.”  Annette Funicello.♥

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.

 

 

Raising Children of Trauma.

“When I used to get so angry it was like I was drunk and didn’t know what was going on.  Later I’d think, “What just happened?”  I didn’t know how I had gotten to the point of being out of control half of the time,” said my grandson 22-year-old Chad Dingle, co-author of Raising Children of Alcoholics & Drug Users.¹

It was crazy scary, frustrating, and always a long, slow process of talking Chad down after he got so angry that he’d punch a hole in the wall or scream mean hateful things at me growing up. We’d talk sometimes for hours, and sometimes a few minutes, depending on his age and rage. Things would then settle into a truce only to soon start up all over again. With the help of counselors, I was able to keep him and the rest of our family safe but it took a huge toll on everyone.

Both of Chad’s parents had problems with drugs and alcohol, and after age four I tried to shelter him from them most of the time; however, his past and their continuing choices, caused Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) triggers that took years to overcome.  Only recently did I learn that to these children, “stern warnings can become  louder and brusquer and discipline can seem harsher.”²

I always told Chad that regardless what his parents did, he was responsible for his own choices and actions.  Giving him consequences was tricky because I knew why Chad was the way he was…neglected as an infant and physically abused as a toddler but he had to develop self-control and a sense of right and wrong.

Alcoholics & addicts hurt their kids.

Why? Not because they don’t love their children but because their addictions override their desire/ability to get, and stay, sober.  They do things to feed their habit that traumatizes their children.  For example, the Adapt Report©, a diagnostic multi-discipline tool currently being field tested by Dr. James Kagan, M.D., scored Chad’s personal trauma history as “very high”.  In part the commentary read, “…experienced 6 out of a possible 10 traumatic childhood events known to be associated with poor mental health and developmental outcomes.”  It noted that his parent(s) were 1) incarcerated, 2) separated, divorced or deceased, 3) verbally, emotionally or psychologically abusive, 4) physically abusive, 5) struggling with substance use and 6) emotionally neglectful, unloving, or threatening abandonment or removal of child from household.

Why trauma-informed parenting helps.

Even young infants learn survival skills, such as not crying when hungry or hiding under the bed when dad’s mad, instead of relational or developmental. Research shows trauma changes brain response to real or perceived danger. The victims never totally relax even when when just awakening from sleep and they accelerate through the arousal stages of alert, alarm, fear and terror faster than a race driver shifts gears. 

How you parent greatly increases, or decreases, a child or teens’ anxiety and tendency to overcome inappropriate responses such as dissociating (withdrawing into themselves and even physically hiding to avoid a drunk dad or a strung out mom) or by hyper-arousal and aggression.  They need to learn from you skills to substitute for the missing checks and balances in their brains.  They have to learn social awareness, empathy, and how to self-sooth.

Basic parenting tips.

Always say what you are going to do, and then do what you say.  Be consistent, calm, and predictable.  Schedules are as important as rules and consequences; posting them helps.

Pre-empt challenges with choices.  “You can choose to do your homework now and go to the basketball game tonight, or you can choose to stay home and do it after dinner.”

Be nurturing and offer physical comfort to the degree they seek.  For example ask for, don’t demand, a hug and if they reject your attempt don’t make it a big deal, “I guess you’re out of hugs–well maybe tomorrow you’ll have one to give away,” or go for a fist bump or high five as your first step to establishing physical connection.

Incorporate frequent breaks.  “Want to shoot hoops for ten minutes?” or, “You’ve earned a break, what would you like to do for an hour?”, even, “Let’s get a snack, okay?”

Final thoughts.

I’m not a counselor.  I have no formal training in medical or mental health. I wrote this as a mom who adopted a traumatized grandchild and spent/spend time with professionals who generously share their time and expertise.  I always urge professional counseling.  What I’ve written is just a conversation starter.

Contrary to what you might think, the younger the infant or child is when subjected to trauma, the wider the impact and resulting problems. Infants cannot change their own dirty diapers or make themselves dinner…a five-year old can open a box of cereal or tell a neighbor they are hungry.  A one-year-old may learn not to cry, but they can’t go out the back door when dad staggers in the front door swearing.

Let your grandchildren talk about past experiences and emotions.  Emotions are facts and there is no right or wrong way to feel.  How emotions are processed and expressed is the issue.  Help them feel safe in talking with you and a few select others in their lives.

Teach them how/who they can contact (911, neighbors, teachers, etc.) to get help if a situation turns ugly.  Never tolerate actions that endanger you, other family members, or themselves.

 

¹Dingle, Chad.  Raising Children of Alcoholics & Drug Users. ©2015.

²http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-pediatrics-trauma-guidelines-idUSKBN16R2B5

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.

 

What to do when grandkids blame you…

Blaming other people is a kid thing.  Most outgrow it, but addicts don’t. So when your grandkids blame you for their birthparent’s problems remember that it probably originated from something mom or dad said to them–or because of immature and wishful thinking. Instead of stressing, take up their challenge. Picture yourselves engaged in a Scrabble™ game.  Grandkid starts play with ‘blame’, daring you to respond. While it may be tempting to take the “S” from your letter rack and stick it under the “B”, don’t do it.  Open up the playing field by finding words/mental phrases that help you keep your emotional balance:

IMG_1585

B –  Bring it on…this is an opportunity for us to talk.

L Lies and love.  I can deal with both.

AAnalyze, Attitude, Approach, Action, and Accountability. All skills I will teach you to help you walk a different path than your mom/dad.

M-E – as in Me.  I count too.  I will earn your respect, but until then I will settle for your showing me, and others in authority, respect because it’s the right thing to do.

Bring it on.

Keep them talking so you know what they are thinking and feeling and who is influencing them (mom/dad, a certain teacher or friend). Listen to what they are saying, and what they are hiding.  Don’t lecture. Ask non-judgmental questions and keep your responses brief. Correct only vital misinformation in an age/stage appropriate manner. Better to come in the backdoor another day if things are emotionally charged.

Lies and love.

Children of addicts and alcoholics have lived in a world of lies.  Lies from mom/dad. White lies from family (possibly even you?) trying to protect them. Unintentional lies of promises broken from a society that says, “We’ll keep you safe.”  You have to break the chain of lies. Always be honest or they will never re-learn how to trust.

Love won’t blind them long term to their parents’ faults.  They will eventually see the lies told by their parents, and the distortions in their thinking. Only years of you being there–saying what you mean, and meaning what you say–will lead them to understand you don’t lie and you aren’t to blame for their, or their parent’s, choices.

“A” game strategies.

Teaching children life and communication skills benefits your relationship, and influences their every future relationship (work, family, friends). So help them  to analyze what they see and hear, develop healthy attitudes (ethics and values), learn how to approach others (communicate), and take both appropriate action and accountability for that action. Don’t worry if you occasionally blow it by getting upset…or if they don’t seem to be listening. Develop strategies and stick with them.

Limit digital contact with parents if every tweet, text, or phone call undoes your progress. Be there for as much face-to-face contact as your legal circumstances, and their age, allows so you can challenge parental lies on the spot.

Pick your battles and consider possible consequences of your words before engaging. Sometimes grandkids are just venting, sometimes testing, and sometimes heading off a cliff.  Triage and dismiss petty comments with a “You may be right.  I might have misunderstood, or let’s ask your mother next visit?”

Every time they hear,  “I may be wrong.  Convince me.  I was wrong.  You are right,” they eternalize it and start processing their own feelings, and emotions, differently.  Gradually their communication skills will improve, and they will see that you are fair and not to blame.

Don’t skip important discussions but try to find a logical time to introduce them–unless there is an immediate safety issue.  Lysa Terkeurst in her book, The Best Yes, says that repeated choices become our circumstances. Avoidance is a choice. Timing is also.

M-E

Lyrics from Kelly Clarkson,who had a rocky relationship with her birth father, song Piece by Piece resonate with me:

“But piece by piece he collected me
Up off the ground…
And piece by piece he filled the holes that you burned in me.”

It is a compliment when your kids feel safe unloading on you, blaming you. Doesn’t feel good, can’t let them get away with it, but it is progress. Never give up but know when to temporarily give in.