Dear blogging nana,
I am a single grandmother and am taking full time care of my daughter’s two children, a 10 year old girl and an 8 year old boy. I am white; the children are mixed race. I love these children; I have fought hard to make sure they have what they need in this world. I try to have them do their homework and do well in school so their life will be easier than mine.
My grandson is now having a hard time at school. The teacher tells me that he cannot sit still. He does not attend to what she says. He isn’t doing his homework. And he’s getting into fights. The team of people who are trying to help at school would like to put him on medication. I don’t want to drug him but I don’t know what to do and I’m…
I’m delighted you wrote. You are one of an army of heroic grandparents who are doing the crucial work that needs to be done to raise your grandchildren.
The struggles you face are not yours alone but a result of many years of policies that have not adequately supported children and families. I firmly believe that once our society puts the needs of our children ahead of the “needs” of an economy-gone-crazy, our problems will be a 100th of what we currently face.
But to the point–what can a grandmother/guardian do now? Lots. First, you are right to be reluctant to drug your grandchild. I like to think of our fellow primates, the chimps. Imagine forcing young chimps to stay in one place for hours, regulating eating times, playing times and contact with parents. You might guess that some of the chimps may have some real difficulties doing so. Would drugging the young chimps be a good solution? It seems to me the problem is due to putting these young ones in an un-chimp-like situation. Our children face a similar situation. This is not the fault of our hard-working teachers; no one is to blame; just changes need to be made.
But, for better and for worse, this is the situation our children must endure.
So the first thing: don’t permit your child to be drugged. I know I’m going against a league of mental health professionals, educators, and, of course, drug companies, to say this, but I do. And there’s good research to back this up. And, in fact, there is apparently long term damaging effects from the drugging. So, this is a good place to “just say no.”
Second thing: when adults are scared or sad and have no one to talk or cry with, they get quiet. Not children. When they are carrying around bad feelings, they don’t feel connected to the people around them and they don’t –and can’t–behave in a way that will enable them to learn; they can’t cooperate.
Teachers have too many children to handle all the feelings that come up for their many children. So it’s up to you. Here’s how to do it: when your grandson gets close to tears, stay close to him and let him cry, encourage him even, regardless of the pretext. And, believe it or not, when he has a tantrum, stay close, protect him from hurting you or himself, or property, and communicate to him that you want to stay close while he is feeling so bad. If you have a trusted friend or relative nearby to help you, that would be great.
And last, try to find time for vigorous play every afternoon or evening. I don’t know from your letter what your level of health is now. If it is good, and you are in decent shape, you can do it. You can play a vigorous game of “I’m going to kiss you when I catch you!” or just tussle on the rug or the bed. As the adult, you take responsibility to make sure no one gets hurt, including you, without blaming your grandson if someone does [we heal]. And be prepared for big feelings to surface. This is a great opportunity for him to unload those heavy feelings that prevent him from functioning well in school. He may not be able to talk about them, but he may be able to cry or tantrum them out. That’s fine. It’s the crying and tantruming that will heal the hurt.
If you can’t do that kind of vigorous play, see if you can find a younger friend who would be open to this kind of play-listening. And, perhaps, you might be able to figure out a less strenuous game, like a pillow fight that you’d be able to cope with.
I think you will find, after a few weeks, he will be far better able to handle the challenges of school.