A few weeks ago, we talked about the difficult topic of how to help a grandchild who is struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues. It’s important to know what to do when things are going wrong. However, it’s just as important to think about ways to prevent or minimize these problems if possible. Some mental health issues are simply genetic, and no one can prevent them. Even in these situations, there are ways to mitigate the problems and build connection and resilience.
The loneliness epidemic among older adults is something we’ve touched on in previous posts. Did you know that young people report feeling lonely at much higher rates than previous generations, too? The coronavirus pandemic intensified those feelings for people of all ages, heightened anxiety, and left others feeling the mysterious effects of COVID brain. Many of us feel unsure as we enter into the new normal of life post-pandemic.
We’ve all missed seeing friends and family members, participating in our regular social groups, and attending events. As more people are vaccinated, and transmission rates continue to go down, it’s time to start thinking of ways to rebuild our social support systems.
One stereotypical image of grandparents and grandkids is a grandmother baking cookies with a young child. Many people have fond memories of such events. The take-away, especially for older kids and teens, is for grandparents to find ways to share their hobbies and spend positive time together. If you’re a passionate baker, maybe you want to pull out more complex bread and pastry recipes and start teaching your grandkids the tricks of the trade. If you enjoy carpentry, teach the grandkids how to do simple repairs, then graduate to constructing a bookshelf. Sewing, knitting, painting, fishing, and hunting are all skills that can be passed on to the younger generation.
The trick is to figure out what your grandchild is interested in and go with it. Perhaps you don’t know much about their interests. Ask them to teach you! It can be a big confidence booster for a kid to show an adult how to do something.
The important thing is for you and your grandkids to have a habit of enjoying each other’s company and building rapport. It can also really help kids to learn to work with their hands and accomplish practical tasks. Feeling capable is a huge boost to mental health and self esteem, especially for kids who are prone to anxiety and depression. You’ll benefit, too, from passing on your skills as well as from the fun of being with your grandkids. It’s very satisfying to teach someone else to be successful.
Not everyone has a hobby they want to teach, though. The good news is that you and your grandkids can benefit from being together in other ways, too. Have a weekly get-together for tea and cookies while talking about your favorite movies. Take turns picking movies to watch together. Choose a book to read and discuss. A weekend walk or hike can be very enjoyable as well. Going to the farmers market for treats and people watching is another idea. The key is to have regular time together doing something fun.
You don’t have to have serious talks every time or even most of the time. Having these regular dates or rituals builds security for both you and your grandkids. Of course, if they know that they see Grandma or Grandpa on Tuesdays, for example, they can bring up things they want to talk about then.
A whole series of positive interactions builds up self-esteem and confidence for both of you. Having that reservoir will help you both to ward off feelings of loneliness. Strong family connections will also make drugs and alcohol less enticing to your grandchild. If a storm does hit, and your grandchild turns to substances or has a bad mental health episode, having strong connections to grandparents can help them pull through and get back on a positive track.
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