Prev Next

“I Don’t Like Grandpa. He’s Not Nice.”

By Amalah

I have a 3-year old daughter (and another on the way!) who is Ike’s age. I think she’s pretty typical, as far as a 3 year old goes. She speaks well, has strong opinions, and is quite sensitive. We live a plane ride away from the rest of our family, but we try to keep in good contact (Skype, FaceTime) with the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. She knows who everyone is, remembers them from our visits. We’ve always made a real effort to keep our families involved in her life, despite the distance.

My husband’s father is coming to visit us for about a week next month. Since his visit is now only a few weeks away, I thought I’d start getting my daughter excited for his trip. Her response: I don’t like Grandpa. He’s not nice.

Now, here’s the thing. He’s kind of not a nice guy. He loves her very much, but he has a hard time being patient with her, as a 3 year old. (The same goes for his other grandchild, a 5 year old!) My husband acknowledges that he’s not exactly the warmest guy. He has the shortest temper known to man, and is just one of those people who yell/talks. The louder you talk, the better your point will come across type of person. I’ve always ALWAYS watched any criticisms I make about him if she was in earshot.

But he really loves her, and I was genuinely shocked that she had that reaction. Can you give me any advice on how to deal with this situation? Do I ask my husband to talk to his father, asking him to be aware of his demeanor? Is there anything I can say to my daughter?

Thanks, Amy!

Oh, the brutal honesty of three year olds. You’ve got to love it, right up until the moment when the brutal honesty comes out of their little mouths at the most appalling/inconvenient moment.

Your daughter is sensitive. Your daughter is having an authentic reaction to her grandfather’s personality. I’m going to guess that she’s probably not the first young child to have that reaction either. If your father-in-law is really that clueless that his volume and temper and overall demeanor can unnerve people — grown-up people too, I bet, and not just toddlers! — it’s unlikely that any quick “heads up” from your husband will make him immediately see the error of his ways and play the part of jolly old Santa Claus during your visit. He probably knows. He probably doesn’t care.

So some do’s and don’ts:

1) DON’T make your daughter feel like her feelings are “wrong” or “bad” or “not nice.” Don’t send the signal that the problem is with HER, or that she’s expected to fake it around him and say things she doesn’t mean. (Like, “oh, you don’t really mean that, you love him, don’t be silly, go sit on his lap and give him a kiss, etc.”)

2) DO give her better descriptions for the things that bother her. Instead of “Grandpa’s not nice,” maybe it’s more that “Grandpa talks too loud.” That might take the sting out of any comments she makes during his visit if she’s got real, concrete words for the behaviors that unnerve her. Encouraging her to be specific will also help you know if his behavior crosses any lines, like “Grandpa yells at me” or “Grandpa pulled my arm,” in case his temper ever gets physically or verbally abusive.

3) DON’T try to magically “fix” everything during the visit with lots of grandpa/granddaughter bonding time. You know he lacks patience with her. And yeah, she’s 3. She can probably test the patience of a saint, so now’s not the time to be expecting much from her OR him. Plan activities that take all of you elsewhere in low-pressure situations where everybody can have their space without a ton of one-on-one time — the zoo, big playgrounds, museums, etc. Keep her occupied at home and don’t try to force extra unnecessary interactions. Let your husband spend time with his dad while you and your daughter take frequent breaks from his presence.

4) DON’T let him guilt you into breaking any of the previous three things. If he gets annoyed that she won’t show affection to him, hold firm and don’t force her. If she gets upset if he yells, don’t let him deflect blame and make comments that turn her sensitivity/shyness into a “bad” thing that she needs to “get over.” Get your husband on the same page as well: It’s okay that Grandpa isn’t your daughter’s favorite person right now, it’s most likely just a personality difference, but there’s absolutely no reason why HER personality should get the blame. He’s the damn adult, and so he should be able to use his damn “inside voice.”

In the coming weeks, talk to your daughter about the visit in terms of all the fun things you’re going to DO with Grandpa, instead of making HIM the focus. If your husband has a chance to talk to his dad, by all means he can give him the heads’ up that hey, your granddaughter really doesn’t like hearing adults yell, and can’t yet tell the difference between a VERY LOUD LIVELY POLITICAL DISCUSSION and an actual grown-up fight or argument. Maybe that will help a little, but I wouldn’t really count on it. Even if he keeps the yelling in check, your daughter will still probably get the cold/impatient vibe from him. When she’s older, this might not bother her so much…and maybe his patience for her will grow as well, once she’s out of the admittedly-irrational toddler stage.

Her “I don’t like Grandpa” statement is real to her right now, and you need to acknowledge that realness…but also don’t completely freak out about it. She might think he’s “mean” and is just tossing out the meanest words she knows right now. (My three year old’s favorite phrase when he’s angry is currently: “I’M THE BAD GUY. I DESTROY THE GOOD GUYS.”) It doesn’t mean she’ll always feel that way or that this is a relationship that needs to be SAVED RIGHT NOW OMG. Adjust your expectations for the upcoming visit accordingly and focus on finding ways for them to have fun together…without really having to be “together-together,” if you know what I mean.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

  • MR

    My grandfather was kind of difficult to like. He didn’t relate to children well. I am the youngest of 5 kids, and when I was little (I think around 5) my siblings and I were playing like normal children do. My grandfather called me over and told him that I was being too loud, and that if I didn’t have better behavior, he wouldn’t come visit any more. I was heartbroken. Well, when my mother heard about it, she went and talked to him (he was her dad), and let me tell you, she was NOT talking quietly. She told him that we were KIDS, that it was unreasonable to expect kids to be quiet all the time, and we were being great kids. And that it was not ok for him to expect us to be anything else, and that if he had a problem with it, that he would not be welcome back. I was shocked, but mostly in awe of my mother. Because she stood up for me. I will NEVER forget that. So, having been the child in a situation like this, I cannot tell you enough how important it is to stick up for your child. You want to prep your child, well, someone definitely needs to be prepping Grandpa. Help him set reasonable expectations. For your daughter, start talking to her about how to handle it is Grandpa isn’t nice. “You are right. Sometimes Grandpa doesn’t have nice behavior. He means well, and he loves you SOOOO much, but his behavior is not always nice. It is ok to tell him when he doesn’t have nice behavior.” And then back her up. When that happens, say, “It looks like you guys need a break from each other.” and then separate them. Take her for ice cream, or go play in the backyard, etc. And reassure her that she is OK.

  • Nicole

    I’d like to throw out the option that perhaps she is nervous or scared or any number of things and that this is how she’s expressing it. My three year old has been known to say she doesn’t like people or thinks they’re mean, but usually about people we don’t know at all. (Like the random kid she just ran up to and pushed.) She has said she doesn’t like grandma at least once, and though I knew she didn’t mean it, I acknowledged that she felt that way and it was okay. It doesn’t really change the advice, but maybe you’re reading it too specifically about him because he isn’t that nice. Don’t know if this perspective would change things for you, but either way, I wish you luck and lots of patience.

  • Rachel

    May I bring something up that might be hard for some to hear but is sooo necessary, anyway? And I’m not saying that this is the case in this situation, but I think it’s worth noting for other readers that may face similar situations… when children have been abused (sexually, etc.) and don’t understand what has happened (as is often the case), they sometimes express it by saying things like “I don’t like him”, “She is mean”, or “so-and-so scares me”, etc. It can come out in many different forms. This is exactly why you should never dismiss or shut your child down when they say things like this. If they feel like they are wrong for feeling this way, they may not open up about the abuse and instead feel as though what happened/is happening is their fault. It’s important to always validate their feelings and find out more. You can ask questions that need a detailed response, “what about them is mean/scary?”, and get the conversation going. It’s also important not to shut them down in front of other people – abuse tends to happen from people that are closest to us, and likely around often. So, if you shush your child, the abuser will think that you will not believe your child when they bring up the accusations, and the problem will likely continue. It’s important to be aware and be the protector of our children. They are our priority, and while a little embarrassment might sting for a moment, it’s more important to establish an open relationship with our kids so they know their feelings are valid. Just a little friendly advice 🙂

    • Melissa

      Yes, thank you for sharing this.  THANK YOU.

    • Debbie

      Everything doesn’t have to be about abuse. What if the 3 year old is spoiled? At what point do you try to teach children to listen and have manners? Apparently manners aren’t important these days. My grandson thinks his grandfather doesn’t like kids, but the truth is he loves him dearly. My husband is stern with him (he was stern with our kids). He doesn’t give in to buying toys every time we go out, or jumping on furniture, or sticking tongue out and he corrects him. Good luck today’s parenting generation, I think today’s kids get away with too much and get too much. And just like giving a child an award just because, children need to learn right from wrong. Sometimes it doesn’t always go there way.

  • Susie

    My mother seems to believe that if you don’t agree with her, she should be louder at you until you see things her way. I disagree with her a lot… And after one particularly loud disagreement, I realized that my toddler had been clinging to me for half of the conversation, desperately trying to get me to pay attention to him instead of my mom. He knew that I was unhappy, he knew that she wouldn’t back down, he wanted mama to be happy. I realized that, and let me tell you it felt like lightening struck me, and I declared the conversation over and that it wouldn’t be repeated in front of him.  She’s tried to bait me since then (especially since we disagree on politics) and I have been mostly successful at not taking the bait. But my son has benefitted from his mama not fighting with his grandma. It’s better this way. 

  • Diana

    We had very similar feedback from our son about his grandfather at the same age. When we asked a few more questions it turned out that his grandfather like to give him back rubs that grandpa thought were gentle but scared the three year old. (I’ve seen the back rubs, To an adult they really were gentle!) Anyway we told grandpa, in front of my son, very specifically no back rubs allowed, and we also promised my son that we would not leave him alone with his grandfather until he was comfortable. And then all was well. So anyway my advice is just to see if there is a specific item like that from my previous visit that has her nervous and to generally stay in the room with them until she gives you the all clear.

  • Rachel

    Amy’s advice is spot-on here. Insisting that children bond with relatives they don’t particularly like isn’t really going to work. Not for three-year-olds, not for adolescents, not for adults. It can be hard, but you don’t really get to decide what kind of relationships your children have with their relatives. What you can do is teach them to be polite to relatives even as they stand up for themselves. Work with your daughter on clarifying what it is about Grandpa’s actions that upset her, and how she can be polite about it. Give her examples like “Grandpa, could you please talk quieter? You’re hurting my ears.” If he’s offended by something like that, it’s really his problem.

  • z

    Might it be that Grandpa is losing his hearing?  That could explain the loud talking.  It can be really hard to deal with little kids if you don’t hear well, because it’s hard to understand their speech and that makes it difficult to relate to them.  

    • Ellie

      Sounds like a lifetime personality thing in his case. My best friend is loud. She jokes that she naturally projects. Fortunately, after a minute or two my LO decided he likes her.
      I do agree that being hearing impaired can make understanding people more complicated, especially high voices that aren’t very good at enunciating. It’s also harder to judge your own volume. It took me over some years to fully nail down volume control and generally understand others after my own hearing loss. ( In my case, I was too soft as often as too loud.) I have to decide whether what my ear heard was correct and what the other person likely said. Very difficult with under 6 crowd, especially ones you don’t live with. They might really have said they saw a unicorn playing backgammon during lunch.

  • B

    At the risk of giving somewhat unorthodox, not the best sounding advice here… my children respond wonderfully to bribery type behavior. Maybe have your husband suggest that grandpa consider bringing a fun present with a few pointers on what might go over well with your daughter (plus, giving pointers allows you from preventing something from an inappropriate gift from coming into the house). My kids can really forgive a lot if there is a stuffed animal involved. 🙂 I know we need to teach our children that there is more to life than presents… hard life lessons and all that… but sometimes you just want a fun visit with the in-laws and a good gift for the kids is just the ticket to get your children on board.

  • Robin

    We have similar problems with my father and my children (now 4 and 7). My dad just doesn’t know how to relate to them or what to do with them. He’s not a baby or small child kind of person. And even though he only sees them a few times a year, he feels like he needs to lay down the law and discipline them when he visits instead of going with the ever popular grandparent indulgent spoiling theme. What we have found works is to come up with something specific for them to do. Building something out of legos together, going to the playground and asking grandpa to push on the swings, reading a favorite book etc. I choose something that I know the kids like so no one has to worry about the kids complaining that it is no fun and I make sure there is some kind of built in time limit that doesn’t exceed either the kids’ attention span or my father’s patience. Things certainly aren’t perfect, but it helps to have a plan in place to help bridge the gap between the kids and grandpa. Plus, the older the kids get, the better my dad can relate to them. So time definitely has a way of helping out.