Things you can try to improve family visits


You know that for long term well being of your grandchildren it is best if they are bonded to their biological parents. Here are some ideas that might help you make the visits successful.

Key thought: More and better planning–if possible–is often the key to improving visits that are emotionally upsetting, confrontational or infuriating

Try these steps for better parent visits.

1. Before the visit - The more you can plan ahead, the better.

Preparation and pre-planning are key.

Schedule visits. Research shows visits go better when there is a written plan that addresses frequency, time spent, and who will visit.

For infants and young children, more frequent and shorter visits is best.

Visits should be structured to give parents the opportunity to practice parenting skills.

Consider arranging times that include challenging situations such as meal times and bedtimes.  Parents’ visits ideally include important events such as doctor appointments, school programs.

Consider visiting outside your home or the bp’s home. Find out what your grandchild would like to do and try and arrange this activity.

Volunteer to provide transportation to and from visit, if possible.

Avoid withholding visits as a form of punishment.

Have some special before-visit rituals to comfort the child and make the time special, such as arranging special clothes or fixing the child’s hair in a particular way.

Ask the child about any items—toys, books, stuffed animals—they would like to take on the visit.

Be realistic with the child about which family members will be visiting—for example, mom only, mom and dad, and so on.

Be open about nonfamily members who may be at the visit.

Set simple, realistic goals for the visit. Focus on what the child needs and wants. Parent visits are not the time to argue, rehash the circumstances that have led to your caregiving role.

2. During the visit - You have a complicated role.

Help the bp by being a model of appropriate parenting behavior.

Be self aware of triggers that flip the lid off the strong feelings you probably have. For instance, if the parent asks for money, or criticizes your parenting, or ignores the child.

Reinforce the bp’s confidence in their parenting skills when they show positive traits.

Respect the bps, and treat them fairly.

Always discuss negative actions of the parents during visits in terms of the choices the parents made. Do not use blaming language.

Don’t assume that parents know how to play and talk with their children. Remember the parents may be transitioning from a very different world.

Your first responsibility is to the children–your child’s children. Keep them safe.

3. After the visit - Good or bad visit, the child needs special attention.

Spend extra time nurturing your grandchild and showing extra affection. Do this no matter how the visit went, but especially if the visit did not go well.

Help the child sort through his or her feelings and questions after a visit. Find a quiet place and together do some busywork activity such as coloring, drawing. Try not to go straight to screen time.

Encourage questions and answer them as honestly as possible.

Reassure your grandchild about their concerns.

Ask what the child would like to do at the next visit.

Document visits that go badly and traumatize the child. You may see a pattern. You may need to get help.

4. If the visit is canceled. What now?

You feel may manipulated, angry and disappointed. You are ready to blame. And under it all, you probably feel powerless.  Your grandchild probably feels sad, neglected, unimportant. Here are ways to support your grandchild when visits are cancelled:

  • Provide additional comforting no matter what the reason for the visit being cancelled.
  • Resist the urge to blame the parent for the canceled visit. Simply explain that the parent made certain choices.
  • Assure the child that he or she is not the reason the visit was cancelled. The child did nothing wrong. He or she is still loved.
  • Try to go ahead and do the activity with the child that was planned with the parents.
  • If visits are cancelled often, consider not telling the child about planned visits ahead of time.

Just for You.  If visits are always trouble, break the pattern.

1. Identify the Potential Problems

  • Think of “what ifs?”
  • What has gone wrong before?
  • What undermines parent-child bonding?

2. Imagine Your Natural Responses

  • How will you feel?
  • What will you think?
  • What are you worried about or afraid of?
  • What might you do?

3. Explore the Best Your Response

  • What is most important?
  • What do you want to happen?
  • What is the best way to make the best happen?

Now Practice! Practice!

  • Be patient with yourself.
  • Practice–and mistakes–is how we learn.

Adapted from “Strengthening Parent-Child Visits” webinar by University of North Carolina School of Social Work


First, it's not your fault if...

Children may have negative reactions after visits, even visits that went well.  A caregiver mom put it this way:

“Sometimes they come back and they are kind of sad. I think it is because they want to be with their parents…You get a lot of different reactions from children when they go on visits. Some kids will have nightmares the night before or have trouble sleeping. Some will have nightmares that night when they get back home. Wake up in the middle of the night crying.”

You may also see other behaviors that signal how stressed children are after visiting their birthparents

  • Crying, sometimes excessively
  • Sadness and disappointment
  • Acting out, such as ignoring grandparents or other family members

Give them comfort, space and time.


The Research says...

Written schedules encourage bps to stick to visitation plans and often lead to more visits.

Children whose bps visit at least once a week tended to rate their parents as normal or healthy.

Children who were visited at least once every two weeks showed fewer behavioral problems.

Overall, children who had frequent contact with their parents showed less anxiety and depression and were more likely to have high well-being ratings.

Source: National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice