Q: As a grandparent, is there anything I can do to help our grandchildren cope with the divorce of their parents? It has been devastating to them.
Juli: As much as you may feel like you're on the sidelines in this situation, you can actually make a very big difference in your grandchildren's lives.
One of the strongest predictors of how children cope through divorce is stability. Divorce is like an earthquake to children. The one thing in life that should be immovable is no longer stable. Along with Mom and Dad splitting, they are carted between homes, they often lose relationships with family friends and extended family, and sometimes they even change school districts. You can be a source of stability when everything else seems to be shifting.
Parents going through the divorce process are typically so anxious and overwhelmed by their own trauma that they lack the resources to invest in their kids. As a consequence, the children can feel rejected by one or both parents. Stereotypically, it is Dad who loses touch with his kids through divorce, but it can also be Mom. In either case, children of divorce need an adult who invests in them, believes in them and models healthy masculinity or femininity. Practically speaking, go to their games and concerts. Have them over and ask about their friends, hobbies and schoolwork.
Try to be the one adult who doesn't take sides. You probably have strong opinions and feelings about who is responsible for the divorce. Keep those beliefs to yourself. In the wake of divorce, children are often being pitted against the adults in their lives. As difficult as it may be, encourage your grandchildren's love for both their mom and their dad.
Q: I have two boys, ages 5 and 7, and they're constantly fighting over toys, over which DVD to watch and so on. How do I diffuse this behavior? They're really sweet when they're not trying to get the upper hand on one another.
Jim: Every parent with more than one child at home has to confront the specter of sibling rivalry at some point. My wife and I have certainly had to address it with our own boys! Thankfully, though, there are some steps you can take to keep competition and animosity in check.
Author Grace Stopani has developed a list of five steps to address sibling rivalry. Here they are:
1) Teach your kids mutual respect. Don't allow them to insult one another. Mean words and actions coming from a brother or sister can hurt deeply.
2) Don't play favorites. All children are created equal, but not all are the same. Recognize each child's individual skills and strengths without implying that one is somehow better than the other.
3) Teach your kids conflict management. Don't deny their feelings, but help them learn to express their emotions in the proper way. It's not wrong for your sons to become frustrated with one another from time to time. But there are good ways and bad ways for them to deal with it.
4) Don't ignore good behavior. Of course you need to intervene when they're behaving badly, but you should also reward them with praise when they're getting along. Be sure each child receives a healthy dose of your time and interest.
5) Show appreciation for who your children are, not what they do. If a child feels valued merely for his performance, he'll feel the need to prove his worth. Foster your boys' self-esteem by praising their God-given traits, such as compassion or a tender heart.
It won't always be easy, but remembering these guidelines can help restore a measure of peace. God bless you in this important calling!
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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