Dear Nana: I love my 6 year old grand daughter dearly and have only shown her kindness and love since the day she was born. I see her regularly as we live in the same town. I have such sad feelings of late because she doesn't seem to connect with me at all...she withholds love and affection and when I go to give her a kiss for example, she will turn away. Just today, I took a sharp knife away from her as I was afraid she would cut herself trying to pry something open. She burst out with..." I hate you grammy." I don't know what else I can do to show her how much I love and care for her. She just doesn't seem to like me and it hurts.
Dear Nana Reader:
1- When I read your story, I wanted to ask: Did your granddaughter USED TO let you hold and kiss her and she has just recently stopped or is this failure to connect brand new? That part would be important. For instance, did you scold her about something and perhaps not realize she was a bit frightened by your demeanor? Kids don't usually withhold love; they usually enjoy sharing it and if they stop, we have to be detectives and find out why. Does the child have a diagnosable disorder that needs to be professionally evaluated?
2- Anything going on at home, like Mom and Dad not getting along? Sometimes kids change their behavior because they are "holding" in anxiety and don't know how to share. They are learning to cope; she might be telling you something...you have to discover what that is.
3- Good job on the sharp insturment retrieval. Safety before popularity. I use gentle strictness with humor, so the child is not frightened of my reaction. Whoa, sister! I'll take the knife (I am smiling and raising my eyebrows). We don't want you to have 9 fingers instead of 10!" (I hold up ten, and then show one finger going down," as I say "Owwwww.")"hey, you know what? That was a good idea trying to "pry" open the can. Let me show you what they invented so we can open a tight lid on a can." (Then I take out a can opener and help her learn how to safely use it.
4 - Watch your facial expressions (look in the mirror to practice how you appear to little people).
4 - When my son was about five and I had to discipline him by removing something from him, I would sometimes hear the "H-bomb" ("I hate you, Mom.") thrown my way. I wondered where he got it, since we are a loving family. Kids pick up stuff around the neighborhood, and try it out at home to get a reaction. When he tried this one on me, I said: "Really? Because no matter HOW MUCH you hate me, I will always love you, honey. God is the same way. No matter how naughty I might act, He still loves me. I will always love you, too. Now, do you want to go outside and play on the swings?" Instead of taking it personally and saying, "WHAT? After all the love I have shown you, this is the thanks I get?" remember your granddaughter is only 6 years old and she may not even understand why she is defensive, angry, scared, or whatever emotion is inside her heart.
4- When things are going well between you both, in a quiet moment, you might try asking, "I'm sorry you felt angry with me earlier, Matilda. Hate is a really strong word. What do you think made you feel so angry with me that you would HATE ME?" Six year old children can usually verbalize "why" if it is something like: "Last week, Nana, you made me paint outside and said I would mess up the living room. I want to paint inside." See if she has some reason for you. It could be something you had no idea was bothering her in your relationship. Unless there is a diagnosis that impairs talking and social skills, kids will always talk if you make it comfortable for them to do so.
If your granddaughter continues to be vehement in her hate-speak, make sure you tell her parents. I might suggest she talk to a professional child therapist, such as an MFT (Marriage & Family Therapist) or a Ph.D. Sometimes just a few visits can get right to the heart of the matter and help things along.
Remember to pray with her when you are together (make it short, like, "Dear God: Please help Matilda to have a terrific day with me today here at the house and for our day to be fun for us both!"). Pray also for her when you are apart, for, as you know, "the fervent prayer of a righteous person yields much."
Keep loving and praying and inviting conversation, and let us know how it goes...
Love always, Nana