Ask BBB: Parenting Advice from Betsy Brown Braun

QUESTION: My 5-year-old grandson is a bright, sensitive child with a great memory. He divides his time between two homes with a parent and a set of grandparents at each home. He increasingly makes comments like “Bacteria kills people across the globe” or  “Ebola has made it to the United States. It travels by air and I don’t want to breathe it,” and even “Did you know the naked rat mole doesn’t get cancer?”

While we monitor the media he sees, at the other home he is constantly exposed to fear-filled TV and radio news and commercials. I have asked the other family to let him watch DVDs or other media that can be controlled, but they think I am over-reacting and that my grandson’s anxiety can be diffused with a quick “Don’t worry about that!”

Do you have any suggestions that would let the other family understand how damaging this information can be to such a young, impressionable child? He already is a worrier and it seems like hypochondria could become a big part of his life. What is so upsetting is that he still believes in Santa Claus, but he worries about shingles and strokes.

BBB: What a tricky and delicate situation you have. There are so many variables to consider.

The first question I wonder is whether or not the child’s custodial parent in each home sees this  “fear mongering” as a problem.  Do each of the child’s parents think there is a problem or is it just you? Does the parent in that home agree with his/her parents’ (the other grandparents’) beliefs (fears)?

Second, do you have an amicable relationship with the other grandparents, chatting openly?  And what about the parents’ relationship? Is their divorce (or separateness) friendly? In the spirit of good family relations and keeping the peace, you do need to consider not only if something should be said, but who should say it?  You don’t want your point to fall on deaf ears because of uncomfortable family feelings.

It is my recommendation that this issue be addressed together by the child’s parents. Hopefully, they have an amicable relationship and will be able to discuss the issue free of any negative feelings toward one another and in the best interest of the children. If the other parent recognizes the issue, then it is s/he who should address it with his/her parents.

Perhaps the best way to deal with your concern is with the child himself. Five-year-old children are able to understand that different people do and believe different things. And that is where I would begin. When the child says something that is simply untrue, you can correct him. If he says that the other grandparent said so, you can calmly say, “Different people believe different things. I do not believe that to be true.” Or “That is just something that I am not worried about at all. We are all safe and healthy here.”

That this child is a worrier and may even be a child who has anxiety is the bigger issue. That is one you can bring up with your adult child, the parent. And, in the context of how we need to handle children who are anxious, s/he can make suggestions to the child’s other parent and grandparents.

Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator, and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers, and other professionals.  She is the award-winning author of the bestselling, “Just Tell Me What to Say” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” Betsy has been featured on the Today Show, The Early Show and Good Morning America and has been cited in Parents Magazine, Twins Magazine, Family Circle and many more.  Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have three grandchildren, so far.