When Baby hates Grandma, you’ve got a problem. That problem is a little bit about you. After all, you created, produced, and directed this child who doesn’t like her own Grandma. You raised her this way (thus far).
But it’s also a bit about gut instincts.
Gut instincts. It’s something people say about children when they seem to know before everyone else that mom’s new boyfriend, for instance, is just deep down no good. Kids just know, they say (they say it about animals, too). And we nod our heads and agree.
Until Baby freaks out on meeting Grandma for the first time.
When Baby hates Grandma, you so don’t want to think it has anything to do with gut instincts.
Grandma: the nicest woman you’ll ever meet. Feeds the hungry and clothes the poor. Takes in stray animals. Volunteers at the local hospital bringing comfort to kids with cancer.
But Baby doesn’t actually know any of this and the minute Grandma comes over for a hug, Baby begins howling in fear. Actual fear.
When Baby hates Grandma it’s a real downer. Yikes!
Meantime you know that Grandma is a good person. So how are you to understand this behavior from your child? Are you supposed to decide there’s something about Grandma that no one knows (except, obviously, Baby)? Something dark and nefarious hidden in Grandma’s emotional closet, perhaps?
Or perhaps you’re supposed to learn from this episode that babies don’t really have gut instincts about people after all. That there’s something else going on. Something else that is making Baby bawl her head off when Grandma comes over for a hug.
Maybe when Baby hates Grandma it’s not even about Grandma at all.
It’s something you’re thinking about because it’s the holiday season and Grandma is going to be coming for a visit. You just know that she’ll try to hug Baby and Baby will freak and Grandma’s feelings will be hurt. Again.
What to do?
Grandma As Powerhouse
Let’s step back for a moment and reexamine Grandma. Grandma’s not just this really nice person who cares, but a doer. A real powerhouse. She gets things done after other people label the tasks impossible. She exudes strength and confidence.
This is what Baby is reacting to: Grandma’s larger than life presence. Grandma’s personality is so big that when she walks into the room, everyone else sort of pales in comparison, just fades to background, like flowered wallpaper no one ever notices. Baby’s gut instincts tell her Grandma is a remarkable person, a star.
Baby has never met anyone quite like Grandma. She needs time to process the information she’s getting about Grandma. She needs time to get comfortable with this huge persona.
Because everything new or different can be scary when you don’t quite know what it means.
In other words, Baby’s fear (because by now, you know it’s not hate, but fear) of Grandma is not really about gut instinct at all. It’s not even about Grandma (or about hate). It’s about Baby being sensitive to people with big personalities and needing some time to get used to a new person. When Baby hates Grandma it’s not about hate or Grandma but about fear of the unknown.
The proper way to handle Baby’s freak-out? Reassure Grandma it’s not about her, but about Baby and her fear of the new and different. Explain to Grandma that Baby just needs a bit of time to warm up. And then ask Grandma to ignore Baby. For now.
This will give Baby the room to observe Grandma from a safe distance, to watch how Grandma interacts with others. This way, Baby is back in charge: she gets to decide whether or not she likes this person; whether she feels secure and safe enough to risk an introduction. Chances are, Baby’s natural curiosity will win out and she’ll try to make eye contact with Grandma or do something else to get her attention.
When Baby Hates Grandma: Don’t Push It
But if it doesn’t happen on this first visit, don’t push it.
It simply won’t work.
Yes. It will likely hurt Grandma’s feelings that baby screams in fear when she approaches, and it’s aggravating as all heck, especially when you’ve done so much to make the day perfect and Grandma’s come from miles away. Not to mention, people have this crazy idea that babies have gut instincts about people. They think that babies know.
When Baby Hates Grandma: Downer, Big Time
Grandma may even begin to doubt herself, and wonder if there’s something wrong with her. When Baby hates Grandma, it’s a bad feeling for Grandma and for you. Furthermore, this ball is totally in Baby’s ballpark. You can only do so much to ease things.
Is there anything you can do in advance of Grandma’s visit to make Baby more receptive? We’re glad you asked. Of course there is:
- Show Baby photos of Grandma. Point and say, “This is Grandma!” in a happy, loving voice. This conveys to your child that Grandma is someone you like, that she is someone safe. You might also ask, “Who’s this?” pointing to Grandma, and then say, “Grandma!” Baby is getting used to the idea of Grandma as someone safe and someone to love.
- Speak about Grandma’s visit ahead of time. Even if your baby is too young to understand very much, talk about Grandma’s
- upcoming visit in a way that shows your excitement and approval. “Do you know who’s coming to visit? Grandma!”
- Warn Grandma beforehand. If your baby is slow to warm up to strangers in general, you’ll want to make sure Grandma knows this, so her feelings won’t be hurt. Let her know that if it happens, if Baby freaks at her approach, it won’t be about her, but about Baby’s cautious nature.
- Talk strategy with Grandma. Ignoring a fearful child helps that child regain her confidence until the time she is bound to reach out to Grandma on her own. Tell Grandma that ignoring Baby is the best way to make her come around.
- Make it a stress-free event. You may not realize it, but going all out and making your holiday celebration labor intensive could put a crimp in that first meeting between Baby and Grandma. If you’re stressed out by holiday planning and preparation, your baby will feel it. She won’t know why you’re tense and tired, but when the big day comes she’ll make the connection. She’ll know that it’s this visit that has you a nervous wreck and she’ll respond by feeling uncomfortable. Keep it simple, Stupid, is a good mantra to keep in mind. Buying bakery goods instead of doing all the baking work yourself, may just make Baby more receptive to meeting her relatives, just because she feels your calm presence—as opposed to that of the nervous wreck who is worried the soufflé will fall—beside her.