6 min Read
What to Do When Your Kids Don’t Like Their Grandparents
August 3, 2023
6 min Read
August 3, 2023
It can be a tricky situation when kids are uncomfortable around Grandma and Grandpa, but it’s a pretty common occurrence. We’ve got expert advice on what to do when your kids don’t like their grandparents.
This isn’t an issue you want to deal with, we know. But it’s not super uncommon, especially when grandparents (or other extended family members) aren’t in the picture all the time. To help you avoid awkward moments, we turned to Dr. Daniel Chorney, a clinical psychologist who focuses on using evidence-based methods to assess and treat paediatric anxiety and related disorders. He offered solid advice and tips to help. Read on.
Dr. Daniel Chorney: Not liking a family member could be due to multiple reasons, most of which may be no different than not liking someone outside of your family. One common cause or reason could simply be unfamiliarity. If children are raised with regular visits to grandparents, they are likely seen as within that child’s close circle of trusted people, so barring negative events (like grandparents who are harsh or critical), most kids in this situation should feel close to their grandparents. Other common reasons could include a grandparent who isn’t responsive to a child’s personality or temperament. For example, if the child is relatively anxious, some grandparents may insist the child get over their fears, and this would cause a negative interaction between child and grandparent. Some reasons may seem silly to some people but can still be true, like if a grandparent’s house smells different from their own home or “isn’t as fun,” a child may not enjoy spending time with their grandparents, even if it’s mostly due to environmental reasons.
Signs of not wanting to see grandparents would be similar to how most adults act—they might outright state they don’t want to go, look for excuses as to why they can’t visit or feign an illness to stay home. Younger children may exhibit some behaviours that hopefully adults don’t exhibit, like whining, crying or throwing tantrums.
DC: I think it’s important to differentiate between “expert” opinions and values, versus what is indicated by science and evidence or research. Every family is different, and sometimes there are complicated relationships between family members, which include grandparents and grandchildren. I would never say it’s a parent’s “duty” to foster a relationship with anyone within a family without knowing more about that specific family situation. Even between a child’s primary caregivers, there may be a strained relationship, or one parent/caregiver may struggle with issues that would suggest separation is better than connection (one example would be extreme substance abuse or someone who is known to be physically or verbally abusive). That said, if fostering a connection is a good idea based on that family and their situation, starting off with smaller, positive events is a good way to start. Grandparents overseeing a trip to the playground or taking a grandchild to a quick and relatively structured event (an after-school sports practice) could help build a relationship before committing to bigger events like spending the night, which could be challenging and stressful.
DC: This is a challenging topic, as forcing any relationship is generally a bad idea, and this is especially true with children. That said, many children show developmentally normative tendencies to focus solely on themselves and not see the importance of doing things for others. This emotional awareness often comes with time as children learn more about empathy and social responsibility, but these are skills often missing at a very young age. Grandparents may be overjoyed at the idea of spending time with their four-year-old grandchild, but the child might rather be at home with their own toys where they are comfortable. Trips to grandparents may be seen as “not fun” or “boring.” In these cases, parents can make a family-based decision that time with extended family is something they value, and they will promote and foster it, even if their younger child isn’t thrilled with the idea.
DC: It’s generally not advisable to force a grandparent into a relationship with their grandchild if they aren’t going to enjoy it or see it as something they value. Values are what matter to us as people—what we care about and what we live for. If a grandparent has values that focus on things outside of family (perhaps they value other relationships, or helping others or achievements), they may not see time with grandkids as time well spent. Again, this is their life, and they have choices, even if we don’t agree with them. If a parent wanted to bridge this gap, they can have an open discussion with grandparents and express how family is a value and how important it would be for them to have this time together as a family. But grandparents have every right to live their lives in the manner they choose, even if their values are different than their own children.
DC: Depending on the length of the visit, parents can use a variety of ways to manage temporary challenges. If the relationship is especially difficult and relationship-building is not an option, a quick-fix coping strategy would be avoidance, either physically or mentally. While avoidance is rarely a strategy I suggest, parents may provide their children with more distraction/avoidance strategies than they are typically okay with, like unlimited screen time or access to games/activities so their children are physically present but cognitively somewhere else. If that isn’t enough, scheduling time outside of house (a trip to the park, for example) would provide a planned physical break from grandparents. This is probably only best if the parents are in full agreement that time apart is better than time together.