Q: My grandfather has been battling cancer, but unfortunately is in the final stages -- it won't be long. He wants to see my two young children. But the illness and treatments have dramatically affected his appearance, and I'm afraid the kids would find the experience very upsetting. What do you advise?
Jim: I understand your dilemma; this is a tough decision. You want to honor your grandfather's wishes, but you're concerned about protecting your children from fear and pain.
On the whole, I take the view that death is part of life. So with appropriate preparation, I think it would be a positive thing to allow your children to say goodbye to their great-grandfather. That's especially true if they've enjoyed a good relationship with him to this point.
Be fully honest with the kids about what's happening. Use age-appropriate language to let them know that great-grandpa is very sick. Explain that people sometimes get so sick that their bodies don't work right anymore -- and that can make them look very different than they used to. If your grandfather's illness has caused him to lose a lot of weight, and/or what hair he had, you may want to talk about this beforehand. Lay it all out in a calm, non-threatening way. If you appear to be fearful or anxious, your children will pick up on it and they'll be afraid as well.
Of course, there's also a faith-based aspect. While most young children don't have the capacity to grasp abstract concepts like death and eternity, this is an opportunity to lay the groundwork for further discussion of these topics as the little ones mature. But for now, keep the conversation simple and geared to your children's needs and their level of insight. We have numerous resources to help at FocusOnTheFamily.com.
Q: I'm worried about cultural influences on my preteen. How can I maintain parental influence in a world competing to take it away?
Dr. Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting & Youth: The tide of culture can make it feel like your child is slowly being taken out of your hands. While it's inevitable that your child will experience things you do not wish them to, that doesn't mean you've lost your essential place as a parent. Research confirms that moms and dads have the most powerful influence on their child's overall development.
Here are four foundational ways to maintain that influence:
1. Foster a close relationship. Invest time in playing, having conversations, answering questions, taking walks, laughing and experiencing life together with your child. Time and attention open the door to influence and guidance.
2. Establish and communicate core values. Teach your preteen what your family's values are. Give examples of how to live out those values in their life and talk about what to do if those values come under attack.
3. Pursue deeper conversations. Your preteen will see and hear things out in the world that are out of your control. But you can prepare them with the truth so that when they face problematic ideas, they have a firm foundation to stand on. The tendency is to panic when things feel out of control. Lean in and guide instead!
4. Establish clear limits and rules with sensitivity and warmth. Validate your preteen's desire to belong and to feel a sense of worth and competence. They need you to be an understanding guide pursuing wisdom, not a friend who is only interested in making them happy or avoiding uncomfortable conversations.
Remember that every child is unique and that your child's needs may differ from others. To explore more practical parenting tips, make sure to visit FocusOnParenting.com.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at jimdalyblog.focusonthefamily.com or at Facebook.com/JimDalyFocus.
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