Grandparents call for help

In days gone by, schoolyard bullies used their strength and size to squeeze lunch money from smaller classmates. Today, these same bullies wield more than just raging fists. They’re armed with guns, knives and drugs. And that’s just the start. Kids and their families today must cope with divorce, addiction and job loss.

It’s no wonder parents and grandparents are in search of advice. Now, some advice is available with a phone call to the Parent Help Line.

The assistance line provides parents and grandparents across Canada with access to professional counselling 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Parents inquire about everything, from establishing their baby’s eating and sleeping habits to concerns about partners drinking or frequently losing their temper.

Grandparent callers
Grandparents are the second largest category of callers. Christine Simmons-Physick, vice-president of child and family services, says this is no surprise. They have a keen interest in their grandchildren and some are the primary caregivers while their own kids are at work.

“The majority of calls we’ve been receiving from grandparents are interesting,”ays Simmons-Physick. “They reflect grandparents’ concerns about how their own children are parenting and wondering how to deal with their own feelings. Are they being nosy? Are they stepping out of bounds? What exactly is their role?”

Boundaries are often questionable, especially when situations leave grandparents playing an authoritative role. They’re often closest to a potentially difficult or risky situation. Grandparents call:

  • With concerns over their own child’s drinking or drug problems.
  • About the impact parental addiction has on the grandchild and the family unit as a whole.

Moral issues
But, even with the best intentions in mind, some find themselves in a loyalty conflict. When this happens, counsellors on the other end get them to explore the situation objectively.

“The counsellors help callers find approaches and to really think through before they act,” says Simmons-Physick. “It ensures a win-win situation for everyone so the outcomes are positive.”

Moreover, counsellors validate the concerns of grandparents, which is just as important as solving the problem at hand.

Policy on abuse
Yet sometimes a more directive approach is needed. If a person calls with concerns someone is abusing a child, the help line has no problem crossing into legal territory.

“There would still be discussion on how to best approach the issue and the sensitivities around that, but by law there are things that must be addressed,” says Simmons-Physick.
In situations like this, Simmons-Physick says Parent Help Line is especially appealing to callers because of its anonymity.

“Sometimes there are just things people want to deal with privately,” she says. “There are things parents aren’t proud or confident about, so again, it’s just a safer way to explore issues and opportunities without having to expose that vulnerability parents feel.”

Other help available
And if grandparents or parents don’t want to actually talk to a counsellor, they can still get the help they need by:

  • Logging onto the parent information website. Located at, the site provides a topic library of 300 topics, links to additional online resources, and online discussion forums. 
  • Calling the helpline and listening to the message library – a collective recording of about 250 parenting problems, issues or concerns.
  • Discussion groups are also offered within the website where parents can discuss common concerns and get support through one another.

Kids Help first
Parent Help Line was born from Kids Help Phone – a venture launched by the Canadian Children’s Foundation. During the mid-to-late 1980’s, the foundation conducted some research. It was discovered that although the issue of child abuse was emerging, kids were still not disclosing abuse readily.

The research also identified that kids were struggling with all kinds of other issues such as sexuality, substance abuse and conflicts with adults and friends.

“They didn’t feel they had the information they needed to make informed decisions about their health and sexuality and they were faced with all kinds of pressure,” says Simmons-Physick.

From there, the decision was made to develop a service for kids. Simmons-Physick says the response of 1000 calls per day wasn’t anything shocking. But what did surprise them was the number of calls they got from parents.

“We certainly didn’t market Kids Help Phone to parents,” she says. “But we felt that if we were talking to a parent who was directly dealing with a situation with a child, we were still really helping that child.”

Partnerships formed
She says throughout the years, many organizations had turned to Kids Help Phone identifying the desire and the need for a Parent Help Line. With the infrastructure and expertise already under their belt, Kids Help Phone decided to launch the Parent Help line.

Chapters exist throughout Canada, including Ontario, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Quebec, Calgary and Halifax. Partnerships with different associations have led to public education programs targeting particular issues.
For instance:

  • A partnership with the Canadian Hockey Association resulted in booklets to inform players, coaches and kids about the abuses in hockey and how to stop it.
  • Another partnership helps singer/actor Tom Jackson on his yearly trek across the country to raise awareness of youth suicide in native communities.

Contact numbers
Kids Help Phone and Parent Help Line share a common goal:
“We want to improve outcomes for kids,” says Simmons-Physick. “We strive to improve the healthy development and welfare and opportunities for children always.”
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Parent Help Line: 1-888-603-9100