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Faith and Family — Grandparents parenting grandchildren: Helping grandchildren adjust to new home vital to establishing good foundationcomment (0)

January 16, 2014

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

A child who arrives in a new home faces both an initial adjustment to the situation and a long-term adjustment to becoming part of a new family. In their book “Grandparents as Parents, Second Edition: A Survival Guide for Raising a Second Family” (Guilford Press, 2013), authors Sylvie de Toledo and Deborah Edler Brown write that children who come into a new family situation may not trust adults because their birth parents have proven untrustworthy. 

“Reassurance, nurturing and acceptance are what your grandchild needs, as well as consistency and routine,” they write. 

Grandparents can take steps early in the transition process to establish a foundation for their new family unit’s future, including the following, which were adapted from “A Guide for Foster Parents” by Irvin G. Sarason (Human Services Press, 1992):

Welcome the child to your home. 

Help the child settle down to a regular routine as quickly as possible to establish a sense of security in his/her new home.

Let the child know the rules of your home and be consistent in enforcing them.

Do not be disappointed if the child does not respond to you immediately.

Give the child the opportunity to talk to you and respect his feelings for the past. Take his lead but do not probe into his past life or criticize his parents.

If social services are involved, encourage the child to trust and talk to her counselor or caseworker. 

Help the child develop a feeling of pride and confidence by giving him tasks within his ability.

When the child succeeds at something, express sincere pleasure and recognition of her abilities.

Authors de Toledo and Brown suggest that grandparents consider parenting classes, such as those held at family service agencies, hospitals or local colleges, to learn new methods and “sort through issues that weren’t even on the table when you first raised children.”  

“It’s not that you are necessarily doing anything wrong with your grandchildren, but parenting classes can teach you new methods for helping them learn responsibility, accountability, confidence and self-esteem,” they write.

It is important to remember that children adjust to new living situations at different rates and times, said Lisa Keane, a licensed professional counselor with Pathways Professional Counseling, a ministry of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries. According to Keane, signs that a child is adjusting well may include:

eating well (not too much, not too little)

sleeping well (not all the time, but also not having insomnia)

seeking comfort and being willing to accept comfort from their new caregivers

opening up to caregivers about feelings and emotions

exhibiting fewer anxiety symptoms, such as bed wetting, nightmares, inconsolable crying or a lack of engagement in the new living situation

enjoying the good times at the new home

showing a range of emotions (not just displaying happiness or sadness all the time)

performing better at school, including better concentration and stable grades

Throughout the transition, family therapy and support groups can help family members cope with issues as they arise. Pathways Professional Counseling provides services and support for families statewide. Contact Pathways via email at pathways@abchome.org or call 1-866-991-6864. Local offices of the Alabama Department of Human Resources can connect grandparents with local resources as well. Alabama Pre/Post Adoption Connections (APAC) also hosts support groups throughout the state. Contact APAC at 1-866-803-2722. 

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