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Big man scary!
March 2, 2010 9:37 AM   Subscribe

My baby is terrified of her grandfather. What can we do to get her to like him a bit better?

Over the past few months, my 10-month-old daughter has gone from perfect amiability, to suspicious, accusing stares, to full-on crying when my dad is around. Her initial misgivings were somewhat understandable: although he's a great guy and good with kids, he does have a big booming voice, tends to laugh loudly and suddenly, and until recently had a bushy Santa Claus beard. Even now that he's shaved off the beard and tries to be somewhat quieter around her, though, she's not really a fan. Grandma, other extended family and friends are fine, but she stays edgy around Grandpa.

I know some amount of stranger anxiety is normal at this age, but I'm told I carried a fixed grudge against one set of my grandparents until I was 7 (!!), and I'd really like to nip this before it gets that far. Plus, although my dad certainly understands that children can be this way, I know he's a little hurt when she constantly squirms away from him and cries to be picked up by other people.

Is there anything we can do to help them be better friends? Baby and grandpa currently see each other on a once- or twice-weekly basis, but that could be stepped up or down as necessary. Any techniques you've seen used successfully to help toddlers come to terms with scary people in their lives?
posted by Bardolph to Human Relations (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Could Grandpa get down to your daughter's level by lying on the floor and letting her crawl over to him? This helped my son get over his fear of my in-laws, when he was the same age as your daughter is now he would burst into tears at the mere sight of them. It seems he was just appalled by their height.
posted by jamaro at 9:48 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just have him ignore her (not rudely, if she approaches him but have him not make any active approaches to her) and let her observe him. By this, I don't mean have him ignore her when she approaches him, but have him choose not to approach her or look at her more than a glance of acknowledgment. And don't have other adults comment to her on her interactions with him or encourage her to interact with him. That way, she can observe him interacting with other people and decide to approach him at her own pace. She'll soon see that he's safe and not pushy or threatening. As for the loud voice, just let her come to you for comfort (again, of her own choosing) if he's too loud for her.
When you carried a fixed grudge against your own grandparents was it because people tried to push you into interacting with them when you didn't feel comfortable, or made asides about your behavior?
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 9:49 AM on March 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


My daughter was the same way with her grandfather (same profile, by the way). Let things run its natural course; its hard on the grandpa, but if he's patient, she'll come around. Mine did around 2 and a half.
posted by RajahKing at 9:53 AM on March 2, 2010


The harder you try to make her like him, the more likely you are to induce a fixed grude, as he becomes associated with your attempts to make her like him. Let it be, don't worry about it, and let her rediscover him at her own pace; it will happen and it will be fine.
posted by davejay at 9:56 AM on March 2, 2010


er, "grudge", not "grude".
posted by davejay at 9:57 AM on March 2, 2010


--agree, he should get down on her level. lie on the floor with her if possible.
--make sure she sees you and other loved ones being very affectionate with him. hugs, kisses, telegraph that this is a safe, nice person.

Mostly, just give it time. A large male friend used to freak out another friend's baby, and now she adores him. She (the baby) did spend time alone with him, though. That's also something to consider. Having other options may be part of the issue. Even my totally nonthreatening beloved mother is not the preferred person for my baby when mommy or daddy are around. Maybe he can take her to the park and push her on the swings? Or just hang out with her while you guys take a walk? I would say make sure they are doing something fun/distracting before you walk away, though.
posted by tk at 9:57 AM on March 2, 2010


My brother is a soldier. When he went away for 6 months - and the men in his regiment went away for 6 months - his daughter developed a manphobia. It passed with familiarity, but that doesn't seem to be the issue.

At that age, your daughter will also be associating her grandfather with certain things. They may be directly caused (he smells, he holds me funnily, his voice is scary) or indirectly caused (if I scream when Grandpa has me, I always get a cuddle from mom/attention from everyone else).

Change those associations. It seems like there is a lot of familiarity so that's one thing licked, but some things that will fast track acceptance:

- Don't give her a choice of someone else to interract with; she'll cope
- Don't react to her dislike of Grandpa by giving her positive attention when she kicks off
- Give her a reason to like Grandpa (a favored toy or treat appears)

If that doesn't work and Grandpa isn't the problem, could she be associating Grandpa with someone else she doesn't like?

Also, I know it's hard, but don't get Grandpa too worked up about this. He probably feels bad enough and the more you treat this as a non-issue the more likely it is to go away.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:58 AM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


When my niece and nephews were about this age, they reacted that way to various people - even family. My sister-in-law was very aware of their "stranger anxiety" and told people not to make eye contact. So, we avoided making eye contact, but still remained on scene, doing whatever we were doing . . . but we didn't look at the children.

This gave the child time to observe and get comfortable with us. And it was done on their terms in a time frame that was comfortable and safe for them. It only took a day before the children would be crawling all over us begging us for attention. Of course, once we passed their test, we were free to make eye contact, make silly faces, hold them, etc.

Don't force the child into Grandpa's arms or force interaction.

I love the idea of getting Grandpa on the floor. He could even just sit there, playing a game or reading a book. I remember when my 1 year old son met his Grandpa for the first time. I was soo soooo sure that he'd freak out. Because he did with Grandma and Step-Grandpa, but when we went over to Grandpa's house, Grandpa got down on the floor, sat there, and talked with us, basically not making any contact with our son, eye or otherwise. Soon enough our 1 year old was climbing all over him.
posted by Sassyfras at 10:19 AM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


She may be confused since he shaved his beard off. Does he sing or play an instrument? A song might draw her to him, and he could sing the same one every time he's around.
posted by mareli at 10:23 AM on March 2, 2010


I'm not a fan of MuffinMan's suggestion, and here's why. She's 10 months old, not even a year. I would still classify her as an infant and not a toddler. I would not force interaction on her. If she were my son's age 14 - 15 months, then hell yeah --- some forced interaction would certainly be warranted with a relative he sees regularly. My son screams and cries when we're in the kitchen and he's on the other side of the gate in the hallway. But he's big enough that he could hurt himself by playing with the stove, and he's strong enough that he could single-handedly destroy half of the food items on the pantry shelves closer to his level. He can deal. He lets us know he's unhappy, and we acknowledge that by giving him a toy or a book he can play with on his side of the gate and talking to him and telling him what we're doing. It's clear he understands a lot of this as some combination of all of that will calm him down. At 10 months, there's no way this would have worked.

I take the view that at that age, for the most part, if there's someone she's not comfortable with, then a slower path to get her comfortable with it is probably best. She's also at a prime age for stranger fear --- and even fear of people she knows well. It just happens, and it will happen again. One of my cousins went through a stage at three where he wouldn't talk to any girls or women except for his mother and his grandmothers. He outright refused to talk to any other females. He grew out of it. Your daughter will grow out of this, too.

In the meantime, to facilitate that, I agree that Grandpa should get down on the floor with her. Grandpa should have toys that she likes to play with near him. He should play with the toys without forcing her to play with him. He can talk to her in a soft voice a little bit, and he should shrug it off if that upsets her and go back to playing with the toys. Eventually she'll come around in her own time at her own pace.
posted by zizzle at 10:35 AM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does he have any kind of distinctive odor? Baby noses are very sensitive. If he wears aftershave or something, maybe desensitizing her to that scent could help. Of course, if he's got some kind of medication going on, this may not be a realistic idea.

Perhaps a couple of his day-old-worn shirts would be a good start - put them next to her in her crib.

You could also try desensitizing her to his voice - play a recording of him over and over a while, while feeding her things she likes.
posted by amtho at 10:57 AM on March 2, 2010


Have grandpa bring your daughter treats and toys, stuff she really loves. It is not actually bribing her, but getting her to associate him with great stuff. Also, make sure he doesn't grab her, talk or laugh loudly. He should just come in quietly with the wonderful stuff and play with it in front of her. She will come around. You could also have a large portrait of grandpa where your daughter can see it.
posted by fifilaru at 1:00 PM on March 2, 2010


Do you spend any chunks of time with grandpa? When baby anachronism met friends of mine she REALLY didn't like the woman. Full on screaming whenever my friend laughed. The man with the beard wasn't an issue, it was the crazy loud laughing lady. But we spent four days with them so eventually baby anachronism began to like her. I also had my friend hold her for short amounts of time while they were both happy and while I was still in the room - separation/stranger anxiety is rarely helped with enforced and abrupt abandonment so I'd really be wary of just dumping her with grandpa. We just hung out, had cuddles and eventually we got to a good place.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:12 PM on March 2, 2010


he does have a big booming voice, tends to laugh loudly and suddenly

This. My husband has a big booming voice and laughs loudly and suddenly, and if he coughs it actually hurts your ears. Our first grandbaby was terrified of him, and it was because the baby associated him with loud sudden sounds.

When your child gets a bit older she'll get over it. Our grandkids love their grandfather now particularly since he learned to be a bit more careful around them with the noise stuff.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:10 PM on March 2, 2010


Also disagree with MuffinMan (manipulating for cuddles, srsly WTF).

Nth just leave it. Grandpa (also bearded) was not the favourite around here during infancy; neither were uncles. We didn't push anything, Grandpa stayed in the background, gentle and friendly but quiet. Daughter is 2.5yo and has been a big fan of Grandpa for what seems like some time now. Still slightly shy around the uncles, but she's enthusiastic about them, and doesn't see them nearly so often.

I suspect the key to Grandpa acceptance here was that she was always wild about Grandma, and she figured anything Grandma liked couldn't be all that bad...
posted by kmennie at 12:03 AM on March 3, 2010


Also disagree with MuffinMan (manipulating for cuddles, srsly WTF).

WTF? Manipulating for cuddles? Where did you read that, exactly?
posted by MuffinMan at 12:38 AM on March 3, 2010


I think it's a phase of development for kids. My daughter went through the same thing. She didn't like men at that age, but grew out of it. It's common.
posted by cass at 9:06 AM on March 3, 2010


Just popping back in to note that we tried the no-eye-contact thing tonight, and it worked like a charm-- no sobbing, only a few suspicious glances, and she actually laughed at Grandpa once or twice. We'll try getting him down on the floor with her next time, and although I don't think we'll do any forced contact as yet, we'll definitely work on creating positive associations via toys and treats. Thank you all so much for your help!
posted by Bardolph at 6:04 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Be careful with your messaging here. I can see it being very confusing for a toddler if her parents are telling her not to hug or sit in the laps of men who she feels uncomfortable with (as you try to protect her from abuse), but there is this ONE man with whom she needs to ignore all that discomfort and just hug and kiss him because we say so.

Let her grow comfortable with him over time. Respect her boundaries (with regards to affection).
posted by heatherann at 5:31 AM on March 4, 2010


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