Raising Grandchildren To Stay Off Drugs
ANSWER: You are raising your granddaughters because their parents are incapacitated by their drug addictions. Do not be shy to clarify for them the nature and devastation that drugs can have on our minds and our bodies. You are in a powerful role to make a difference with your grandchildren!
While you are not telling them not to love their parents, you must be clear that both parents have made a very serious mistake in their lives, which has hurt those around them. Be clear that it is a mistake your granddaughters are NOT predestined to repeat! The difference lies in drug education, available in more effective programs for children than ever before. Do not take a fatalist approach. Instead, challenge your granddaughters to make good and healthy choices from the start!
Begin by teaching a healthy respect for the body. It is never too early for drug prevention. And primary-grade children benefit from learning to keep their bodies healthy. Teaching respect for our bodies at an early age is a protection against drug abuse later. What we put in our bodies should be good for us and help us grow. At this age of development, kids are fascinated with how things work. They want to know how their bodies operate. They are ready to understand what happens to their bodies when drugs are ingested. Give them the facts about drug use, and explain how anything taken to excess, even aspirin, can be dangerous.
Point out that alcohol and tobacco use are illegal for children, to protect their developing bodies. Use of alcohol and tobacco will be a choice reserved for when they become adults. But do not stop there! Help your grandchildren develop healthy coping skills for dealing with rejection, disappointment, even failures when they occur. And teach them alternative, healthy ways to relax and unwind, so they will have strong coping skills when they do enter adulthood.
Generally, when children leave primary grades, they enter a larger, less protected school environment. Preteens are gradually growing more independent, a process which continues through adolescence. This is a crucial time to develop the ability to make healthy and informed decisions about their future.
Talk to your preteen about the ways that drugs and alcohol are promoted in the media. Use opportunities that arise, such as song lyrics, television shows, or advertising that suggest drugs, tobacco, or alcohol are glamorous and successful methods for coping with life stress. For example, many television dramas (Ally McBeal, Chicago Hope, and others) portray a generalized use of alcohol, with professionals drinking routinely as a ritualized ending to a workday. Point these subliminal messages out to your grandchildren, and separate myth from reality.
Be willing to talk about their disappointments in their own parents, but help them separate themselves from these negative patterns. And teach them NOT to feel shame for their parents' behavior. They cannot control the choices their parents made, but they can make better choices for themselves! Use the Al-Anon programs in your area, where they can talk with other young people about their parents' addictions and separate themselves from responsibility for their parents' lives. Regular attendance at an Al-Anon group would also provide needed emotional support for you, too!
You are in the ideal position to make a difference. The number-one reason children give for not taking drugs is that a caring adult does not want them to! Children who have positive and strong connections with a primary caretaker (grandparent, aunt, uncle, mentor) do not want to jeopardize that relationship. It matters that one caring adult believes in them. Given a strong relationship with your grandchildren, the following points will help protect them from drug abuse:
If your grandchild does make a mistake, help her get back on track. Do not condemn her. Instead, condemn the behavior, set consequences, and get help from a well-regarded children's drug treatment program in your state, such as those available substance abuse resources in Montana. It is possible one or both of your granddaughters could test themselves against drugs. If this happens, be prepared to take early action rather than throw in the towel. Early treatment can nip destructive patterns in the bud.
Your continued belief in their ability to make the right choices in the long run will help them internalize the education you are giving them. You may not be able to help your own child, but you do have an opportunity to help your grandchildren turn this pattern of addiction around. After all, what are grandparents for, if not to help steer with a wiser eye!
Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.
Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.
Copyright 1996-2003. Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.