Q: My grandmother is in the final stages of cancer and her illness has dramatically altered her physical appearance. She has expressed a desire to see my two young children. Should I allow the kids to visit her? Would they find the experience too upsetting?
Jim: This is a difficult decision. You're anxious to protect your children from fear and pain. At the same time, you want to honor your grandmother's wishes.
On the whole, we take the view that death is a part of life. With appropriate preparation, it would probably be a good idea to allow your children to say goodbye to their great-grandmother. This is especially true if they've enjoyed a relationship with her in the past.
Be honest with the kids about what's happening. Use age-appropriate language to let them know that great-grandma is very, very sick. Tell them that people sometimes get so sick that their bodies don't work right anymore. Explain that this may make them look very different than they used to. If your grandmother's sickness has caused her to lose her hair or a lot of weight, you may want to talk about this beforehand. Be sure to lay it all out in a calm, non-threatening way. If you appear to be anxious or fearful, your children will pick up on this and it will cause them to feel afraid.
Of course, there's a faith-based aspect, as well. While most young children don't have the capacity to grasp abstract concepts like death and eternity, this is an opportunity to lay the groundwork for further discussion of these topics as they mature. For now, keep the conversation simple and geared to your children's needs and their level of insight. We have numerous resources to help at FocusOnTheFamily.com.
Q: Our young son is defiant and talks back. He won't do his homework and refuses to clean his room. When we try to discuss these issues with him in a calm, mature way, we usually end up getting angry and yelling at him. What are we doing wrong?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: First, I might suggest that you invest about 10 minutes into taking the "7 Traits of Effective Parenting" assessment; see focusonthefamily.com/parenting.
Second, you need to determine if this is a skill deficit (e.g., poor organization), or a true case of defiance. Either way, you want to work on developing connection, respect, understanding and communication. If it's a skill deficit, help him learn what he needs to accomplish tasks. If it really is a defiance issue, then it's best to have consequences that are age-appropriate, consistent and well understood.
Consequences can be both positive and negative. Your child may have learned that you eventually get angry, yell and then give up -- so you need to follow through. You can use positive consequences to increase a positive behavior, and negative consequences to decrease a negative behavior. Set goals with celebrations, and set consequences with meaningful losses.
For example, you might tell your son, "If you finish your homework by 5:00, you get an extra half-hour of TV time tonight." That's a simple positive consequence that doesn't cost you anything. But if 6:00 rolls around and he hasn't even looked at his homework, as a negative consequence he loses the privilege of any TV time that night altogether. Again, spell this out clearly in advance.
You'll need to come up with appropriate consequences (both positive and negative) that really touch him where he lives. It could be skateboarding privileges, or a weekend outing with Dad. The motivating power of specific consequences will change as a child grows older.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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