Children see the world very simply, and often in black and white. They know that people get sick and then they get better.
However, when someone is getting sick and is not going to recover it can be difficult for a child to understand.
Their young minds are full of tomorrows and the promise of life. They rarely come across illness, and when they do it is usually a matter of days before the person is up on their feet again.
As well, grandparents are living longer, and they are healthier than they were in the past. Never before in history have they had access to so many resources, time and wealth.
However, when illness does strike it can have a devastating effect on each member of the family.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia slowly deteriorate the sufferer’s brain to the point where they lose their memories; sometimes forgetting who their family members are.
I have lived with the ordeal these shocking diseases can have on families for some years. My mother has Dementia and while her children and grandchildren deal with each issue as they arise, her great-grandchildren, my grandchildren, seem lost and bewildered with the whole situation.
In truth, grasping what is happening to a loved one is a difficult enough process for an adult, so how do you explain it to a child?
We have found that while the child may not be able to understand the full medical implications, try breaking down the facts into simple terms and be as truthful as possible.
A grandchild may become anxious, annoyed or frustrated if they feel left out and ignored.It would be a mistake to separate them from what is happening.
Perhaps you could begin the conversation like this:
“Grandma’s mind isn’t working as well as it used to. She is going to forget things, and at some point even people she knows really well, like us. She can’t help it. It’s not her fault. But, it’s important we are patient with her, and help her as much as we can.”
Create a Plain and Simple Explanation
It is important to remember to keep your explanations plain and simple,and repeat them word for word as often as possible.
Give your child examples they can use to help them understand Grandma’s situation that they can relate to.
Point out that she will forget simple things she used to remember all the time such as, where she is going or what time of year it is. She may even forget the child’s birthday or a special holiday event like Christmas. And, these things are normal for someone with her condition.
Always remember, the child and Grandma are going to need as much help as they can get. It would be foolish to underestimate the benefits a child can offer even if it is just a tiny hand to hold or a warm smile shared with love.
There are a range of children’s books which tell the story of dealing with Alzheimer’s and Dementia from a child’s perspective. This can help your grandchild realize that he or she is not alone.
Children tend to ask questions at inappropriate moments. If you can’t answer their questions there and then, make a mental note and get back to them as soon as you are able.
Be inclusive when making decisions or having discussions with adults about Grandma. A child may soon become bored with ‘adult’ talk, but it is still crucial that they feel involved.
Rather than hope and pray they understand, make time and plan how you are going to communicate and educate this time with your grandchildren.
About Susan Day
Susan Day is a passionate author, educator and, of course, a grandmother. She wants to empower all grandparents to build meaningful relationships with their grandchildren. Discover what the Top 10 Things Happy Grandparents Never Regret Doing.
Susan lives in country Australia with four dogs, three bossy cats, three rescue guinea pigs, and an errant kangaroo.