Why is daughter rejecting grandpa?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 23, 2011 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara:

I have a 4 1/2 year old little girl who has always had a great relationship with my father. He lives in NY and makes an effort to see her at least once a month. He comes to Boston to visit and we go down to NY to see him. I always felt that the two of them had a special connection. My daughter just adored him and the feeling was mutual.

Unfortunately about a year ago things changed. All of a sudden my daughter is very stand offish with my dad. She won't hug him, she barely says hello when he comes to visit. This started about the time that her little sister arrived. I don't feel my dad favors the little one or gives the new one any more attention than anyone else has. So, I am not sure if that is the issue. She has not changed with my mother-in law, in fact she is more affectionate with her lately. Could this be a gender thing? My dad's feelings are hurt, he has brought this up to me several times and I really don't know what to tell him.

What do you think?
From: What to tell Dad? Concord, MA

Dear What to tell Dad,

Could be gender related; could be that she's "punishing" him for affection toward the baby; could be that she thinks of herself as a "big girl" now and doesn't need grandpa; could be that something happened between them. (I'm not suggesting anything untoward; it's possible that he disciplined her about something she didn't like, or in a way she didn't like.) I wouldn't be worried about this unless it escalates, for instance, if she stopped wanting to see him at all, or seemed frightened of him.

Save that extreme, I would handle this exactly as I suggested recently, when a child favors one parent over another. Don't make a big deal out of it. If she's mean to him or says something unkind, that needs to be addressed immediately: "What you said hurts grandpa's feelings. In our family, the rule is not to hurt people's feelings. You can think whatever you want; that's private. But you can't say hurtful words to someone."

Otherwise, grandpa should proceed as always, giving her his attention and love. It might be helpful for him to think of this as if she's testing his love, as if she's asking him, "If I pretend I don't like you, will you still like me?" The answer, obviously, is to show that his love is unconditional, that he will love her even if she behaves badly.

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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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