Q: My grandson is almost 5 and has had a pretty unstable life. He's lived at least seven different places since he was born. Both parents have histories of drug use, and neither one of them has been able to maintain jobs or relationships. The parents finally separated a year ago, and since then, my son — my grandson's father — has kept himself focused and held a job. His mother isn't doing so well and gave my son custody of their child.
My grandson is often difficult and tiresome to be around. I'm a teacher and am worried about whether he will be successful in school. He's bright but makes poor choices, seldom follows directives, is easily overstimulated, and seems to have no desire at all to win acceptance or approval. My daughters and I take turns daily caring for my grandson after school. We have a close relationship with my son, but he gets defensive when the rest of us are hard on my grandson.
Please advise me on how I can try to get my grandson on track as he begins his school career. Also, would you recommend a book that we could all read so we would be on the same page with our discipline?
A: You're correct in assuming that a child who's had such confusing and traumatic early years is at high risk for poor adjustment to school. You're also correct about the many caretakers needing to be on the same page. Your history of teaching other children should be very helpful. Your grandson needs plenty of love but also definite rules and expectations. The more similar his expectations are to what will be expected in the classroom, the more easily he'll adjust to school.
For example, you can vary his activities between quiet play, reading and outdoor play. You need to teach him to come in when you call, put his toys away when he's done playing, and to get ready for new activities. You can give him short homework assignments and have him show you his work when done, much as his teacher in school does. Other caretakers can follow the same general pattern. He'll become accustomed to following directions while learning and having fun. You can also contact his teacher from time to time for suggestions about what he should practice at home. If you write basic rules down for all caretakers to follow, there can be more consistency. Your son will appreciate those written rules as well. Not only will he be less concerned that caretakers are "too hard" on his son, but the rules will provide him with more confidence in parenting his son as a single dad.
The book I'd suggest is "How To Parent So Children Will Learn" (Great Potential Press, 2008). It emphasizes the main principles of positive parenting and can help to keep all of you on the same page. Your grandson is lucky to have such a caring grandmother, and your son is fortunate to have so caring a mother.
For free newsletters about helping children cope with divorce, or about the principles of parenting, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the address below. Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com. Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or [email protected] To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.