'Things go missing' when granddaughter visits

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  January 10, 2011 06:00 AM

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Barbara, I give my grandchildren the run of the house. When my 9-year-old granddaughter, who is the oldest of eight, comes to visit, things go missing. Sometimes I find a missing object buried in some fabric on the top shelf of a back-room closet, sometimes something will reappear after being missing for a year. This child definitely has a mean streak and a queen bee complex, but her parents are very sensitive to criticism. How can I handle this tactfully?

From: Tessa, Greenwich, CT

Hello Tessa,

I always try to consider questions from a developmental perspective, so in this case, I'm wondering, why would a 9-year-old "hide" her grandma's objects? This is not typical behavior. The simplest answer is that she wants to be discovered for the attention discovery would bring her, but because of how well hidden the objects are, that's probably not the case. More likely, her behavior is a sign of unhappiness.

Have you talked to her about this? Don't ask her if she is taking objects; she'll deny it or maybe not even remember and you'll be in a no-win struggle with her. And you certainly don't want to be accusatory or angry. Try something like this: "I've noticed there are some things of mine that are missing. We need to talk about it because I'm worried about you."

That may or may not get a conversation going but at the very least she will know that you want to help her. There must be some reason this is happening at your house, right? (And by the way, I'm assuming you are 100% certain there is no other possible explanation for these "found" objects.)

Of course, your question wasn't about talking to your granddaughter, it was about talking to her parents. I would simply tell the parents about the conversation you and your granddaughter had in a, "I thought you might want to know" kind of way. That's informational rather than confrontational. The bottom line is that it sounds like your granddaughter may benefit from some professional help.

Meanwhile, if you haven't already, put objects that are valuable -- financially or otherwise -- in a safe place.

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8 comments so far...
  1. Oldest of 8 kids and she's 9. I would just wonder whether she's hiding things she is fond of so that she can be sure they are there the next time she visits. I'm wondering whether she manages to have any private space or special things that don't get grabbed or broken by younger kids at home. Maybe talk to her and make a box-for-special-things with her that she can keep in a safe place at your house?

    Posted by Mouse January 10, 11 10:15 AM
  1. It doesn't say that all 8 grandkids are of the same parents. She just might be the oldest grandchild out of 8 total.

    The columnist's response is a perfect example of how people look too deep into something and make it a bigger deal than it is.

    Is this an emotional issue? Is the child screaming for private space? Is there some animosity to the grandmother because of some horrible wrong done to her? Please, enough of the soul searching and touchy feely garbage already.

    It's a 9 year old kid. Kids use stuff, leave it where they're done and move on. Sometimes they just think it will be fun to stick things in weird places. In short, they're irresponsible and absent minded. That's kids for you.

    Posted by annoyed January 10, 11 01:36 PM
  1. annoyed, while it'd be easier I suppose if no one had emotionally-based motivations for their actions, it seems very naive of you to suggest such a thing here. Let's assume this LW isn't making things up: she has noticed a pattern of things missing -- sometimes taken and left not where any child would have been using it at all (such as top shelf of a closet) OR things have gone completely missing (which is more like theft, not just sticking something "in weird places").

    At any rate, it is hardly "touchy feely" to say to the girl, "So what's going on?" That's not touchy-feely in my world. That's conversation and an attempt to figure out a problem.

    Posted by jjlen January 10, 11 04:45 PM
  1. How does the grandmother know that those objects that go missing and reappear after a year is due to this child? If it is her, since no one has told her that it was wrong to hide things in over a year of doing so, why would she stop?

    I agree with annoyed, let's not read too much into this. Maybe she is just being curious about grandma's things, thinks it's fun to hide them, and simply forgets. If one lets kids have the run of the house, one should not be surprised if things are not always in the correct place. Or maybe she is trying to get attention, but that's not that unusual for kids this age.

    None of it sounds like a need for professional help based on what has been told us. How about a simple chat with grandma about how grandma likes things to be put back where they belong?

    Posted by mk January 11, 11 01:04 AM
  1. If you find items a year after they go missing, how can you be certain it was this particular grand-child? Do you not have any of the other children over as well? Also, she must be left alone for some long stretches of time for her to hide all of these items so well in the house and never be caught in the act.

    I agree, if you have not brought it up before and it has been happening for over a year now, how would the child know that it is wrong?

    Posted by Sodashop January 11, 11 08:56 AM
  1. Ask. Ask your grandkids if they're playing "hot & cold" or another type of hide-away and seek game. Maybe it's innocent. They hide it, play hot & cold, and after a while get bored and distracted and move onto something else before the object is found. Kids don't like giving away their hiding secrets, so they're not going to "un-hide" it if the others can't find it.

    Posted by SLDM January 11, 11 03:38 PM
  1. Maybe Barbara could follow up with submissions before they are posted--clarifying how many siblings this child has, for example. OK we get that the grandmother has 8 grandchildren all under the age of 9...but the number of siblings may make a difference.

    Nine years old is plenty old enough to understand the "do not steal" rule which the grandchild is not breaking. Hiding stuff is bending a rule--a silent call for attention. Maybe the best way to mention it to the child is to say "Gee, I just found my xxx that I have been looking for for ages" and see where that goes.

    Being labeled a child with a "mean streak and a queen bee complex" by your grandmother is pretty cruel. Maybe this child is trying to get some positive attention in the grandmother's house where she sees other grandchildren being treated more kindly?

    Maybe the child has been asked to mind siblings at home too much for her age? Those of us whose parents didn't use birth control will remember how the parents said "I have to watch the baby, you watch your brothers/sisters" and there always was a baby in the house? Maybe the child has no toys of her own and gets no one-on-one from her parents?

    Posted by Irene January 11, 11 07:41 PM
  1. Irene - you're way out of line with your remark. It's not cruel to be aware of a grandkid's issues. I have a niece who is exactly the same way and, now that she is 13, she's gotten worse. The problem with my niece is directly related to the parents, particularly the mother who is very defensive and thinks she's right all the time. Barbara's advice is spot on.

    Posted by kat February 3, 11 12:29 PM
 
8 comments so far...
  1. Oldest of 8 kids and she's 9. I would just wonder whether she's hiding things she is fond of so that she can be sure they are there the next time she visits. I'm wondering whether she manages to have any private space or special things that don't get grabbed or broken by younger kids at home. Maybe talk to her and make a box-for-special-things with her that she can keep in a safe place at your house?

    Posted by Mouse January 10, 11 10:15 AM
  1. It doesn't say that all 8 grandkids are of the same parents. She just might be the oldest grandchild out of 8 total.

    The columnist's response is a perfect example of how people look too deep into something and make it a bigger deal than it is.

    Is this an emotional issue? Is the child screaming for private space? Is there some animosity to the grandmother because of some horrible wrong done to her? Please, enough of the soul searching and touchy feely garbage already.

    It's a 9 year old kid. Kids use stuff, leave it where they're done and move on. Sometimes they just think it will be fun to stick things in weird places. In short, they're irresponsible and absent minded. That's kids for you.

    Posted by annoyed January 10, 11 01:36 PM
  1. annoyed, while it'd be easier I suppose if no one had emotionally-based motivations for their actions, it seems very naive of you to suggest such a thing here. Let's assume this LW isn't making things up: she has noticed a pattern of things missing -- sometimes taken and left not where any child would have been using it at all (such as top shelf of a closet) OR things have gone completely missing (which is more like theft, not just sticking something "in weird places").

    At any rate, it is hardly "touchy feely" to say to the girl, "So what's going on?" That's not touchy-feely in my world. That's conversation and an attempt to figure out a problem.

    Posted by jjlen January 10, 11 04:45 PM
  1. How does the grandmother know that those objects that go missing and reappear after a year is due to this child? If it is her, since no one has told her that it was wrong to hide things in over a year of doing so, why would she stop?

    I agree with annoyed, let's not read too much into this. Maybe she is just being curious about grandma's things, thinks it's fun to hide them, and simply forgets. If one lets kids have the run of the house, one should not be surprised if things are not always in the correct place. Or maybe she is trying to get attention, but that's not that unusual for kids this age.

    None of it sounds like a need for professional help based on what has been told us. How about a simple chat with grandma about how grandma likes things to be put back where they belong?

    Posted by mk January 11, 11 01:04 AM
  1. If you find items a year after they go missing, how can you be certain it was this particular grand-child? Do you not have any of the other children over as well? Also, she must be left alone for some long stretches of time for her to hide all of these items so well in the house and never be caught in the act.

    I agree, if you have not brought it up before and it has been happening for over a year now, how would the child know that it is wrong?

    Posted by Sodashop January 11, 11 08:56 AM
  1. Ask. Ask your grandkids if they're playing "hot & cold" or another type of hide-away and seek game. Maybe it's innocent. They hide it, play hot & cold, and after a while get bored and distracted and move onto something else before the object is found. Kids don't like giving away their hiding secrets, so they're not going to "un-hide" it if the others can't find it.

    Posted by SLDM January 11, 11 03:38 PM
  1. Maybe Barbara could follow up with submissions before they are posted--clarifying how many siblings this child has, for example. OK we get that the grandmother has 8 grandchildren all under the age of 9...but the number of siblings may make a difference.

    Nine years old is plenty old enough to understand the "do not steal" rule which the grandchild is not breaking. Hiding stuff is bending a rule--a silent call for attention. Maybe the best way to mention it to the child is to say "Gee, I just found my xxx that I have been looking for for ages" and see where that goes.

    Being labeled a child with a "mean streak and a queen bee complex" by your grandmother is pretty cruel. Maybe this child is trying to get some positive attention in the grandmother's house where she sees other grandchildren being treated more kindly?

    Maybe the child has been asked to mind siblings at home too much for her age? Those of us whose parents didn't use birth control will remember how the parents said "I have to watch the baby, you watch your brothers/sisters" and there always was a baby in the house? Maybe the child has no toys of her own and gets no one-on-one from her parents?

    Posted by Irene January 11, 11 07:41 PM
  1. Irene - you're way out of line with your remark. It's not cruel to be aware of a grandkid's issues. I have a niece who is exactly the same way and, now that she is 13, she's gotten worse. The problem with my niece is directly related to the parents, particularly the mother who is very defensive and thinks she's right all the time. Barbara's advice is spot on.

    Posted by kat February 3, 11 12:29 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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