Dear Dr. Meg,
Our granddaughter is 8 years old and when both sets of grandparents
are together she openly hugs and prefers them to us.
How do we approach her to let her know how much this hurts us?
Motivating a child (especially one as young as 8 years old) by using guilt never works so don’t do this. Telling your granddaughter that your feelings get hurt when she shows favoritism to her other grandparents is not appropriate. The better question to ask yourself is: why does she prefer them to you? Are they more affectionate? Do they buy her more things? Sometimes parents play into children’s attitudes and talk more positively about one set of grandparents than the other and bias their children. Could her parents be doing this?
Here’s what I suggest that you do. Without getting into a competition with her other grandparents, work at winning her affections. Ask if you can take her alone for the day or night and spend more time with her. Do fun things with her like take her to the park, or go on a bike ride. Don’t fall into the trap of buying her things to win her favor. What she will respond to is genuine interest and affection. Let her know that you really enjoy her company and that she is the apple of your eye.
The other question (and this is a hard one) is to ask yourself if there is anything that you are doing that would turn her away? Are you critical of her or her parents? Or do you or her grandfather speak negatively when she’s around? Children are very sensitive to others’ moods and to criticism. They will quickly avoid those who are negative so you might want to take inventory regarding your own behavior.
The good news is that your granddaughter is young and you have time on your side. Reach out to her repeatedly. Finally, I would ask her mother or father (whichever you feel closest to) what you can do to help her. Don’t complain that you aren’t liked as much as the other set of grandparents, but simply tell the parent that you want a better relationship with her and ask for their help. I’m sure that he/she will have a lot of ideas.