With the coronavirus pandemic, most of us are isolated in our homes and not able to see our extended family. This includes grandparents who want to help their children and grandchildren, but can’t see them in-person. Meanwhile, grandchildren need even more support as their routines are disrupted and they worry about what is going to happen to themselves and those they love. And if this isn’t enough, the lives of their parents may be in utter chaos as the adults navigate working from home (or unemployment), home schooling, and entertaining kids. This is recipe for a significant amount of anxiety in any home. Enter the grandparents who can provide emotional support for their grandchildren and take some burden away from their adult children.
Importance of Grandparents
Why are grandparents so important? Numerous studies have shown that as many as nine out of ten adult grandchildren feel their grandparents influenced their values, gave them a sense of emotional intimacy and unwavering love, and allowed them to experience a true, positive relationship. Other studies have shown that a close relationship with a grandparent is associated with fewer symptoms of depression in both generations. Grandparents can offer time, unconditional love, experience, creative ideas, and emotional support. They can also offer a calm presence. If anxiety is contagious, so is calmness. And grandparents can give their adult children a needed break.
There are numerous articles in the news about how to spend virtual time with your grandchildren. Some of my favorite suggestions include using FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom to read books, have a cooking lesson, practice yoga, offer home schooling, learn how to plant a garden, and even eat dinner together with the miracle of social media.
Providing Emotional Support
What is discussed less is how grandparents can help provide the emotional support that grandkids need at this time. Here are some ideas for handling this important job. The first step is to get on social media or the phone with your grandchildren and be there. This means really listening to them without imposing your own agenda. If they don’t have a lot to say, you can ask them open-ended and age-appropriate questions like the following:
How are you are doing?
Are you able to stay in touch with your friends?
Is this time away from school hard for you?
Everyone is feeling extra worried right now, how about you?
What are some of your worries?
What do you know about the virus?
You don’t have to have answers to their questions. You do need to convey empathy and acceptance of what they have to say. You also can help convey calmness. Remember, calmness can be contagious. Give your grandchildren the gifts of being someone who listens, accepts, loves, and soothes them.
Using a Monster Worry Book As a Guide
I believe our new book, Shrinking the Worry Monster, A Kid’s Guide for Saying Goodbye to Worries, can be used most effectively now. It tells the story of a big green worry monster who likes to make kids feel bad by saying worrisome things to them. He then grows bigger and bigger by gulping up their worries. The kids later find out his secret and they are able to shrink him down to a manageable size. This research-based book has appendices for specific ways to work with a child’s worries.
I encourage all grandparents to read this book to their grandchildren and then talk about it. Use the appendices in the back of the book for specific ways to address worries. Play the Worry Monster game as suggested. And because some worries are realistic right now, help your grandchildren realize which ones have truth and which do not. Know that if you use this book with your grandchildren, you will have given them some life-long tools for managing anxiety.
We will get through this coronavirus. Grandparents have the skills to help kids navigate this dark time more easily. Here’s to shrinking all our Worry Monsters!
Sally Baird, PhD is a retired child psychologist and co-author of the new book, Shrinking the Worry Monster, A Kid’s Guide for Saying Goodbye to Worries. Her book can be found online at www.drsallyb.com or anywhere books are sold.