Being a grandparent is one of the greatest joys of life, but even the best nanas and pop-pops may find themselves struggling with how to handle the questions, anxiety and other emotions coming from their grandchildren as they take in the world right now.
As elementary school children express anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic, feel the associated boredom and also absorb what they can of the complex discussions of institutional racism, law enforcement policy and white privilege, there are bound to be a lot of questions.
And as if those factors don’t make it complicated enough, it is also not uncommon to find grandparents of different political persuasions in the same multigenerational family — liberals and conservatives clashing on everything from the need for stimulus checks to police funding — all while eating dinner together on a patio, 6 feet apart.
A Starting Point For Discussions
As a psychotherapist who has written about and maintained a private practice specializing in the adolescent mind for four decades, allow me to, at the risk of sounding insensitive, pose a question of my own:
Why is everyone so convinced that they need to offer children concrete explanations right now?
Grandparents, like parents, often find themselves in a position where they feel the need to explain why things are the way they are to curious children. Attempting to answer these questions often proves of limited value because it seems to provoke further questions, testing everyone’s patience.
Listen To Your Grandchildren First
Clinical psychological experience teaches us the value of empathic listening that conveys to the child that her or his opinions are valued and respected. Further, this approach shows us that children usually have their own ideas and solutions and are eager to share them.
Instead of answering questions, I suggest asking the child what he or she thinks, then patiently, expectantly, wait for a reply while maintaining good eye contact. Do not expect a conversation, but rather intermittent responses as the main activity is taking place. Responses may take the forms of talking, drawing or playing. Sensitive listening has the effect of validating the child’s belief that she is a significant, worthwhile person, that she is understood, that she can have experiences that have shared meaning and coherence.
The net result is to generate in the child a sense of secure attachment and with being understood, a sense of safety in an insecure world.
Students of evolution suggest that our sense of safety comes from our group connectedness to other people, a safety that binds us together for our survival. This is now supplemented with the value the child attaches to being able to express herself coherently that contributes to a sense of participation in bonding.
Seeking Coherence In An Unpredictable World
Children seek, like the rest of us, coherence and certainty in a social world filled with unpredictability, insecurity and adversity. During these uncertain times, the best thing grandparents can do is listen empathically to their grandchildren. By providing an ear to listen and validation for their right to their own opinions, we offer our grandkids a future that seems safer and more controllable because of the strengthened connection of going forward with someone they trust.
Harold Bendicsen is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Elmhurst, Ill., and three published books on adolescent development.
Looking for more ways to connect with your grandchildren? Download Caribu to launch discussions around meaningful books and activities. Explore our ‘Courageous Conversations’ section to read books about anti-racism, and browse different age categories to find appropriate materials to share with your loved ones.
You can read the original article in The Chicago Tribune.
Harold K. Bendicsen, Commentary: How To Talk To Your Grandkids About These Turbulent Times, July 29th, 2020, https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-opinion-coronavirus-race-grandparents-children-20200720-zq4vngowavdg7joougljynterq-story.html.