My 8 year old grandson will not speak to me. In fact, he seems mortified if I even approach him to speak. He is like this with all the grown-up members of our family and other adult friends of his parents. He can talk perfectly well with siblings and other children, also his parents, but simply will not say one word to the rest of us. This is becoming socially uncomfortable for all concerned and I'm afraid my son and his wife do not take likely to my continual demands for them to seek help for him. They have had the school psychiatrist to speak to them and he said there is absolutely nothing wrong with the child. I'm sure this is the case, but he chooses not to speak to us and this cannot go on for obvious reasons. Funnily enough, when he was a toddler he did communicate but has simply ceased to do so over the last 5 or 6 years. How can I persuade my son to seek help to sort this problem?
From: GrannieTricia, Castle Douglas, UK
Dear Grannie Tricia,
If the school psychologist found "absolutely nothing wrong," his parents have, as you wish, sought professional advice. It's also possible the psychologist gave the parents advice which perhaps they haven't shared with you, but which likely was along the lines of "ignore the behavior." If so, I would agree.
Giving attention to the behavior -- even though it's negative attention -- only reinforces it. Your grandson is doing this in the first place because he derives a sense of power and control from it. Why he feels the need for that particular power and control is, of course, the million-dollar question. Like you, I hope the parents get more professional advice. My advice to you is to butt out and stop nagging your son. You've said your piece. You can ask them if they are worried but if they say they are not, then express your trust in them and drop it. Your job is to be supportive. Plus, there is good news here: It appears your grandson does not have a speech, developmental or medical problem, or that he is targeting only you. In fact, my guess is that his behavior is aimed at his parents.
Meanwhile, however, you are not as powerless as you think in terms of your relationship with your grandson. Here are some suggestions from Arlington (MA) parenting consultant Linda Braun. Linda, who is a friend and mentor, is professor emeritus at Wheelock College, the former director of Families First Parenting Programs, and a grandmother of four.
* Don't pressure or cajole him into talking to you.
* Flip things around so that it's not about "why don't you talk to me," but more about "I really value what you have to say." Tell him, "I know that you can't or don't want to talk to me, but I would like to know what you think about X...." X, of course, would be some interest you have in common or something about which he has expertise. Furthermore: "I was thinking of emailing or texting you sometimes to get your opinion." If he doesn't have either of those options, Braun suggests, "Send him notes in the mail once in a while - 'I saw a write -up of a great movie today and wondered if you'd like to go see it with me on Saturday? Please ask Mom to call me.' Or: "How did your team do today?"
* In person, Braun suggests playing board games or finding side-by-side activities (baking? gardening? biking? watching a favorite video?) that don't really involve his talking, but will produce some closeness.
"In all likelihood," says Braun, "he will eventually open up."
"PS," she adds in her email to me. "The parents could probably use some counseling on how to handle this (and maybe they are getting it), but the grandmother has to be very careful. The whole family may have control issues."