Extension

Problems in communication

Some situations prevent open communication. Sometimes the grandparent is in control of communication between the parent and the grand-child.When a parent is in prison or jail, the only way a young child can contact him or her is through another adult—usually the grandparent.The grandparent is responsible for travel to the prison, calling the parent, mailing cards or letters, etc.This role can add more stress for a grandparent who already has a difficult job.

Sometimes it's hard to know what a parent will do, which can be hard on you as well as your grandchild.When a parent drops in without warning, other family members can be caught off guard.They may become angry, making your grandchild feel insecure. Helping your grandchild understand by talking openly about his or her feelings can make the situation easier.

Problems in open communication— parent is unavailable child ^ \

parent grandparent

How much should you tell young children?

What children are told about the situation may not reflect what they learn on their own. Children can read people's emotions by what they hear, see, and feel.They hear adults talking or piece together bits of information. Often they understand more than adults think they do.3

When deciding what to tell your grandchildren about the situation, it's important to consider their age and developmental skills.The following tips may help:

1. Avoid telling the child too much.

Many children are simply too young to understand the whole story.When grandparents tell a young child all of the details of the situation, they may be doing more harm than good.Too much information can be confusing, scary, and overwhelming for the child.

2. Avoid telling the child too little or nothing at all.

Kids are smart.They will pick up tidbits about their situation, even if the details are not discussed directly. If children learn about what's going on from someone else, they could feel hurt, deceived, and confused.They may avoid asking you questions or talking to you about other important concerns because they think in topics are "off limits."

3. Never twist the facts or lie to the child.

Even very young children know the difference between the truth and a lie.They often piece together information, but then are afraid to talk about the truth. Some people may twist the facts in an effort to protect the child. But that approach often backfires.When children are told untruths about the situation, they may become very confused, angry, and hurt.The best strategy is to be honest with your grandchildren, at their level of understanding.Your grandchildren will learn the importance of trust and honesty in relationships.

When talking with any child, it is important to keep in mind his or her skills and limits. Refer to the timeline on the next page for a general idea of children's communication development.

Behaviors as communication: What is your grandchild trying to tell you?

Young children often do not have the language skills to clearly put words to their thoughts and feelings.You'll have to take clues from their behavior to try to understand what they're trying to communicate.

Sometimes, children act out to get attention because they feel sad or neglected. Other times, children withdraw from the environment and ignore special people in their lives. This does not mean they don't care about those people. Sometimes children act in certain ways because they don't know any other way to express themselves.

Timeline for development of communication and language skills4

Age

Communication and language development

Birth

Babies can recognize familiar voices and even mock facial expressions, including smiles They communicate by crying to express hunger, pain, discomfort,and fatigue

6 months

Babies begin to remember sounds and their meanings, especially their own name Begin babbling parts of words

6 months to 1 year

Children recognize basic sounds of language and imitate sounds Children may point or gesture to communicate wants and needs

1 to 11/2 years

Children speak first words (usually objects and people)

Children begin to understand many words, even more than they can say (e.g., the child can understand that "ball is a round toy" without being able to say it)

Points to pictures in books

11/2 to 2 years

The child's vocabulary grows dramatically; includes more action words Two-word sentences are common

Child begins to gesture less and name more (e.g., instead of pointing to the ball, the child may say,"Want ball")

2 to 3 years

The child's vocabulary continues to grow

Sentences include combinations of objects and action words

Children understand that many different words can be used to describe the same thing Children enjoy and remember hearing or reading stories

4 to 5 years

Children's sentences are made up of four or five words

Comprehension is increasing, but children often misunderstand the complicated language of adults

5 to 7 years

Children's sentences are more complicated and involve more words; they are able to put several thoughts into sentences that make sense

Children begin to respond to what other people say in conversations Children often engage in private conversations with themselves Can tell stories

7 to 8 years

Children learn that one word can have several meanings Understanding of language rules are more developed

Children are learning that writing is another way they can communicate their thoughts

Understanding your grandchild's behaviors may not be easy. It's not as simple as "If my grandchild does X, he's feeling Y."Children (and adults) are not that straightforward. As illlus-trated in the chart on the next page, one behavior can express a number of different things. Understanding the child and the situation can help you figure out what the behaviors mean.

For help interpreting how children typically act, think, and feel as they work through major life changes, see fact sheet #4, Disruptions in Close Relationships.

The source of a child's behaviors can depend on a lot of different things. Understanding these factors is important. It is one key to helping you understand what your grandchildren are saying when they behave in ways that are confusing or troublesome.

Factors within the child:

• developmental level (especially language skills)

• child's temperament (is the child usually busy, calm, fussy, or pleasant?)

• physical well-being (is the child hungry, tired, or sick?)

• emotional well-being (is the child stressed or depressed?)

Factors within the family:

• quality of family relationships

• communication styles in the family

• time spent together

• what has the child been told about the situation?

• what does the child know about the situation?

Factors within the situation:

• how recent are the changes in the child's life?

• school environment

• quality of friendships

• neighborhood factors

• grandparents'job

• other stressors and supports

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