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October 23, 2018 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Relationships

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He's not my son . . . but I want to help.

Question:

I am the care provider of my 2-1/2 year old grandson. My daughter didn't marry his father, and divorced the man my grandson learned to call "Dad" from the day he was born. My daughter and her husband have a history of drug and alcohol abuse. My daughter, now divorced for four months, is finishing her third month of a clean and sober life at a drug re-habilitation facility. Having cared for my grandson Ryan these past three months I have observed many things: he is intelligent and has a great sense of humor, superior small motor co-ordination, a great sense of independence...and I could go on. However, what I sense is that he had to learn these in order to attend to his own needs. I'm not sure, but physical abuse could have taken place, as he tends to "freak out" if he knows he's getting a "swat". Either he was allowed to rant and rage out of control, or this is new. My concern is how I can teach my grandson to deal with his anger and any other abandonment issues he has.

What abandonment issues does a child of 2-1/2 have? How can I teach him to deal with these abandonment issues?

Island Girl (52 year-old woman)

Answer:

Dear Island Girl,

Thanks for your email. You sound like a very caring grandmother who is concerned about her grandson's well-being. From what you've reported about your grandson's first few years of life, attachment and abandonment issues are likely to be an issue for him. When we are young (especially between the ages of 1 and 4 years), we develop ideas and beliefs about attachment and our relationships with other people. During this time, if we have consistent, supportive, and loving parents or care-takers, we adopt an attitude or idea that other people are trustworthy and inherently good. On the other hand, if we have neglectful, disinterested or abusive parents we adopt a belief that other people can't be trusted, nor can we depend on them. This belief effects our social development and self-esteem, as we find it hard to develop positive relationships with others. Consequently, our early ideas about attachment form the foundations of our future adult relationships with our friends, family, partners and children. By being a supportive, consistent figure in your grandson's life you can largely mitigate the effects of the inconsistent and unstable relationships he has had with his parents.

Your observation of Ryan's reaction to discipline sounds like it results from a mixture of abuse and to a larger extent lack of supervision and discipline from his parents. The most effective way that you can contribute to Ryan's development is by supporting him and being consistent in your affection and discipline. Ryan would probably react positively to the use of a token economy or positive and negative reinforcement system. This process involves rewarding him with tokens or points when he behaves and taking away points (and consequently rewards) when he misbehaves. Once he has accumulated a certain amount of points, you can offer him rewards. For example, behaving on a shopping trip might provide him with 10 points and 20 points can be redeemed for his favorite chocolate bar. It is likely that he has used the technique of "acting up" or throwing temper tantrums in the past, as it was his only means of getting attention from his parents. It may take him a little while to understand the concept of the token economy, but your persistence will pay off.

In the coming months, Ryan will need to work through issues of abandonment and deal with the loss of his father figure (due to the divorce). It would be advisable to honestly answer any of Ryan's questions about his parents, as he will learn that he can trust you and it will help him understand what has been happening. The most positive way of helping Ryan deal with his feelings of abandonment is to be a consistent support person for him. Asking Ryan questions about his family and showing him photos of his parents should encourage him to discuss his feelings and provide you with valuable insight as to how he is dealing with the situation. Playing with Ryan and encouraging him to act out his feelings with toys may also help him vent his feelings of frustration, anger, rejection and anxiety.

I am confident that you will be able to assist your grandson through this difficult process. It's wonderful to hear that a little boy has such a devoted and loving grandmother who is so concerned and committed to caring for him.

All the best,

Karen Joy Pearen www.asktheinternettherapist.com

This question was answered by Karen Joy-Pearen. Karen is a registered psychologist and crisis phone counselor in Australia. She uses various approaches - person-centered, cognitive-behavioral, solution-focused, gestalt and eclectic - to deal with anxiety, addictions, phobias and relationship problems. Her area of expertise also includes career counseling, motivation, and goal-setting. For more information visit her site or her compact information page in QueenDom

For more information visit the site or contact information page on QueenDom.

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