Telling a child that one of their grandparents is unwell is a difficult task. Their young minds are full of tomorrows and the promise of life. They rarely come across illness, and when they do it is usually a matter of days before the person is up on their feet again.
Grandparents are living longer, and they are healthier than they were in the past. Nonetheless, diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia can, and do, strike at the heart of most people’s families. These diseases slowly deteriorate the sufferer’s brain to the point where they lose their memories; sometimes forgetting who their family members are. There are other physical effects, but from a child’s perspective the loss of their grandparent’s memories will have a powerful impact.
In truth, comprehending what is happening to a loved one is a difficult enough process for adults, so how do you explain it to a child?
The most important step to take is to be honest. While the child may not be able to understand the full medical implication, try breaking down the facts into simple terms.
Children have an innate way of knowing when someone is not being fully honest with them. They may become anxious, annoyed or frustrated if they feel left out and ignored. As well, many children have a wonderful bond with their grandparents, and it would be a mistake to separate them from what is happening.
Perhaps you could begin the conversation like this:
“Grandma’s brain isn’t working as well as it used to. She is going to forget things, and at some point even people she knew really well like us. It’s not her fault; she can’t help it. It’s important we are patient with her, and help her as much as we can.”
It is also essential for the child to understand that Grandma is not going to be able to play with them like she used to. She might have to live in a special house or even in a hospital.
Make things simple
Children live very much in the present, and even if you have explained the situation to them they may forget depending upon their age. This is why it is important to keep your explanations simple, and repeat them word for word often.
Give your child concrete examples they can use to help them understand Grandma’s situation. You could point out that she might forget where she is going or what time of year it is. She may even forget the child’s birthday or a special holiday event like Christmas.
There are a range of children’s books which can help your child learn what is happening to their Grandma. These books tell a story from another child’s perspective. This can help your child understand that they are not alone, and that there are other children coping with similar issues.
Don’t ignore or avoid questions your child might have. Children tend to ask questions at inappropriate moments like when you are backing out of tight car parking spot, or while you are knee-deep in dirty laundry. If you can’t answer their questions there and then, make a mental note and get back to them as soon as you are able.
Be inclusive when making decisions or having discussions with adults about Grandma. A child may soon become bored with ‘adult’ talk, but it is still crucial that they feel involved.
Always remember, you and Grandma are going to need as much help as you can get. It would be foolish to underestimate the benefits a child can offer even if it is just a tiny hand to hold or a warm smile shared with love.
About my Guest - Susan Day
Susan Day is an author of 15 books, educator, and a content marketer. Her blog, Astro’s Adventures Book Club, is full of ideas and tips for grandparents who want to build a strong relationship with their grandchildren. In particular, Susan specializes in helping grandparents share their love of books with their grandchildren. Susan is currently writing a book titled, The Top 10 Things Happy Grandparents Never Regret Doing!
Susan lives in country Australia with four dogs, three boss cats, three rescue guinea pigs, and an errant kangaroo. And, apart from blogging, writing and reading; she loves drinking coffee, painting and learning to box.