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Parenting Spike: The seriously difficult child- Grandparents

by Andrew D. Gibson, Ph.D.


You know the old saw about how it is better to be a grandparent than a parent; you have less responsibility and you can love your grandchildren more because of it. It happens to be true, if it happens at all. It doesn’t always. Take Spike. Spike, an out-of-control ten year old, helps keep himself and his family isolated from other family including his grandparents. He does it by being obnoxious. You can’t take him to a family gathering for fear that he will cause some upset somewhere. Somebody will get hit or sworn at. Your relatives will be offended by his disrespect. All your brothers and sister and aunts and uncles stare at you, demanding that you do something and think what a loser of a parent you are. That includes your parents, Spike’s grandparents. So they don’t have much of a connection with him and it is at a time when you could really use some help.

Help doesn’t happen. You want your folks to spend some time with him, get to know him, try to break through the nastiness and create something. You know you can’t but you hope maybe they can. If only they would. But they don’t. They have lots of reasons. But in the end they just don’t.

They weren’t brilliant as parents so this is an opportunity for them to correct how they did their job and try again. Actually had they been better, Spike as we  understand him, might not have happened. We model our parenting on the parenting we got and often with the same results. That can be good or not so good. Probably in Spike’s case it wasn’t so good. So there is no shortage of motivation to try and do for Spike what may not have been done for one of his parents. But you have to see the motivation in order to act on it. What it mostly takes is time. These same grandparents might join Big Brothers/ Big Sisters and extend a hand to some unfortunate child when at home they have one of their own who is struggling. The irony should be obvious. It often isn’t. Or they dedicate themselves to their church’s outreach programs. Or they write checks for some far off social programs. Or they are active in local charity. Their obliviousness is galling. You sometimes want to scream but screaming at them is as effective as screaming at Spike. Clearly, some things give them pleasure; some things don’t. Spike doesn’t. You’re on your own.

Grand parents are a hidden resource if they will be. It doesn’t take much money. It does take patience. Spike isn’t perfect; far from it. He won’t be overnight if they engage. His grandparents will have to tolerate some behavior they would prefer not to. If they are willing to put into the time they may get a lot in return; maybe more than writing a check to a far off project. In the meanwhile, they can go to the mall, get a burger or work on a (short) project together. They will need to keep expectations modest. Don’t push. Don’t lecture. Let Spike take the lead. Go slow. Don’t show disapproval. Writing a check to a far off project may give them a warm feeling, but engaging with Spike may make them even warmer. In the end, caring matters.




About The Author


Dr. Andrew Gibson was born in Detroit at the close of WWII. He grew up in the midst of farming country in central Michigan. Both parents were teachers. He keeps a picture of his childhood companion, Wags, to this day (you had to see the tail to appreciate the name). After discharge from the Navy after the Viet Name war, he graduated with a BA and MA from San Diego State University and earned his Ph. D from the University of Connecticut. He has taught at Portland State University, n Portland Oregon, at the University of Maine, Presque Isle and at SUNY New Paltz. He resides in Eastern Connecticut, with his wife of 41 years, where he conducts a private practice in parenting seriously difficult children. His book “Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike-A Seriously Difficult Child’ is the first of a series examining seriously difficult children at various age and emotional disturbance levels. He invites you to find him on the web at


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