I am a grandparent of 8 grandchildren and have always had a close relationship with all of them. Recently one of our grandchildren no longer wants to give hugs, sit on our laps, or have any physical affection from us. This grandchild is 8 years old and has always been a hugger. We are concerned about the recent change and not sure if we should be concerned.
Bubbe and Zayde
Dear Bubbe and Zayde,
Congratulations on the large family with 8 grandchildren! I would imagine a grandchild rejecting your affection can be quite concerning and it would be difficult to not take personally. The first thing I would recommend is to speak with the parents to explore any possible reasons for this change in behavior. Hopefully this is a child asserting boundaries instead of something more serious going on, but it needs to be explored. The child’s parents can seek guidance from a therapist who works with children if needed.
Assuming nothing more serious is happening, it can be difficult when you love a person and the affection you want to give is not wanted. Feelings can get hurt but I encourage you to look at this as a learning opportunity to help this child with a necessary skill that could change the course of their lives. By accepting the boundaries, he/she has set, you are honoring that their body belongs to them and role modeling appropriate adult responses. Many parents and grandparents might be tempted to gently coax the child to give hugs anyways, but this can send an unhealthy message to the child. All of this is important because if someday the child is faced with someone wanting to force unwanted touches, they will know it is okay to say no because they have experienced a healthy interaction before. No one should be forced to hug or touch if they don’t want to. You are now in a position to help teach appropriate boundaries with your grandchild and what a wonderful gift that is. This may go on for some time, resolve soon or be permanent but in the meantime, find ways to show your love that does not involve physical touch. Affection comes in many forms, and it could be quite fun to show your love in creative ways. The most important thing to keep in mind as you interact with your grandchild is to show them you still love them no matter what so they will know your love is unconditional and feel safe to approach you with difficult topics throughout their lives. Your grandchildren are lucky to have you as their Bubbe and Zayde.