Q: My two-year-old granddaughter won't go to anyone but her parents. They live over an hour away from any family so have not spent much time around us and don't have any friends they spend time with where they live. Her mother hasn't worked so she has never been at a daycare or sitter. The only people she has spent most of her time with is her parents. It is so hard when I want to hold her so bad. Is this normal - will she out grow it?
A: When a grandparent doesn’t get to see a young grandchild frequently, it can indeed be very difficult on both the child and the grandparent. When they do finally get together, it can lead to great joy, but can also be very difficult. When you look at things from the perspective of the young child, if he has not seen a grandparent frequently - and especially if it has been a while since he has (and when you do the math, even a few months is a significant percentage of the child’s life!)- to some extent the grandparent is a stranger, and strangers are pretty scary when one is a young child! So what can a grandparent do? Don’t panic. For many young children, it is natural to be hesitant about interacting with someone they do not know very well. It can be a very developmentally appropriate reaction: while some kids have a very outgoing personality and “never met a stranger," others are more reserved and cautious. Don’t push too fast. It definitely hurts when a grandchild doesn’t want to get close to you. It may help to keep in mind that it is not necessarily that the child doesn’t or won’t love the grandparent, but rather that it simply may be that he doesn’t yet really “know” and feel comfortable with her. So no matter how much it hurts, a grandparent doesn’t want to push things, and as hard as it is it is important to not let one’s disappointment show to the child. It may be of help to take things slowly. So, instead of trying to hold a grandchild, for example, the grandparent can have a fun activity planned to do with the grandchild that allows the child to keep his distance (and approach slowly when he feels comfortable), even if it means the parent will be with the child the entire time. Hopefully, over time, as a child sees how warm and kind the grandparent is, and how much fun he is having, he will gradually warm up. Bridge the gap in time. When it is a long time between visits, a grandparent can do things to not be forgotten. Special pictures of the child and the grandparent doing something fun can be in the child’s home, for example, and the parent and child can talk about the fun time together that the picture shows. The parent can also talk about the grandparent frequently to the child in a positive, loving way, and send the message how much the parent loves the grandparent. Encourage the parent to provide the child with opportunities to socialize with others. If a child spends all of his time only with his parents, it can be harder for him to learn to socialize and enjoy being with others. So a parent may want to think about providing a child with opportunities to play with others, such as at a Mother’s Day Out or a playgroup.