Helping Grandparents of Children with Disabilities

A child’s grandparents can make things much easier for you and your child. The love of a grandparent is a unique and wonderful motivator.

What Are Grandparents Feeling?

Grandparents experience many of the same feelings that parents do. Some of these feelings are associated with the process of grieving, such as shock, denial, frustration, sadness, and then finally acceptance. However, accepting the reality can be harder for them because they are somewhat removed from the immediate situation. For them the bonding process that helps them to see the child as a child first, instead of just seeing the disability, may happen more slowly.

Grandparents face two difficulties: understanding their feelings for their grandchild with a disability and knowing how to help their own child. Ironically, this confusion may leave them unable to offer the support that their son or daughter needs.

Grandparents might feel the same ignorance and fear that the parents of the child felt at the time of the diagnosis. Their life experiences with people with disabilities are often quite different from those of their children and grandchildren, and their attitudes and perspectives may be quite different as a result. On the other hand, grandparents may bring maturity and a broad perspective.

Parents and Grandparents Help Each Other

Parents and grandparents can help each other understand and accept the child’s disability. Grandparents may not have access to all the information that parents receive from professionals.

Information and experience with the child can help grandparents. Some parents find it helpful to give the grandparents literature on the disability or take them to doctor’s appointments with them. Finding a way for them to be involved can be helpful to everyone.

Parents can also share their needs and feelings with the grandparents. The best time to do this is when things are fairly stable, not in the middle of a crisis. Above all else, try to use the unique challenges to strengthen extended family relationships.

How Grandparents Can Help

  • Provide loving support while respecting the role of the parents.
  • Be understanding and open to learning about your grandchild’s unique strengths and challenges.
  • Ask parents how you can help.
  • You are in a unique position to provide loving support to the entire family. You can be a stabilizing force in the family system.