Q. My 2-year-old granddaughter cries when she sees me or my husband or anyone new. I have tried ignoring her when I go to their home, but she screams so loud I have to leave. How I long to hold her and love her. Can anyone help?
-- Diane Miskiewicz, Palatine, Ill.
A. To a 2-year-old child -- who may not see Grandma all that often -- Grandma is nothing more than a stranger. If you keep that in mind, it's easier to understand the fact that Grandma is going to get what she wants only if her granddaughter gets what she needs -- the reassurance that Grandma's presence doesn't mean the disappearance of Mom and Dad.
"Little children are afraid someone will take them away from their mommy," says Carolyn Boatner, a reader from Waxhaw, N.C. "They want the security of knowing that person is just going to hang around and visit a while before they leave."
Patience combined with a few other tricks have worked wonders for grandparents in similar situations all around the country. Sandy Roberts of Gulf Shores, Ala., records herself reading books and mails them to her only granddaughter in Dallas, so that when they do get to visit, her voice is familiar. If possible, videotape yourself reading the books, advises Jay Belsky, a professor of human development at Pennsylvania State University and author of "The Transition to Parenthood" (Dell, $12.95). "Don't forget to show the pictures to the camera," he says. Even if Grandma doesn't have access to a video camera, the child's parents can be sure to display lots of photographs of the grandparents around the house.
Telephone conversations, even if they're one-sided, can help. "I suggest the parents spend time talking about Grandma and who she is before she comes and long after she leaves," Belsky says.
One grandmother of nine from San Antonio, Texas, has gone so far as to lie prostrate on the floor upon arriving at her skittish grandchild's home. "Instead of hugging my daughter and her husband (jealousy starts here), I would just lie down on the floor to get me at eye level with the little one so I was not so threatening," Nancy J. says. "Then I would do nothing. Slowly but surely the baby would come over to see who I was."
Though strategies such as these can help, time is most likely to be the best cure for this perfectly normal stage, says Patricia Shimm, author of "Parenting Your Toddler" (Addison-Wesley, $12). "The grandmother is right in not forcing herself on the child," says Ms. Shimm, who runs the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development in New York City. "Try not to be hurt, because this has nothing to do with you personally. By the time they're 3, they have more secure boundaries and won't get these terrible worries."
These fears can be stronger in children who have a lot of sitters, Belsky says. "The child simply equates a new person with being left by Mom and Dad," he says. To help with this situation, Christina Ulrich, a grandmother of eight from Four Oaks, N.C., suggests Grandma increase the frequency of her visits and gradually increase their length.
"Bring along a toy or doll, not to be given directly to the child, but played with by the grandmother," Ms. Ulrich says. "If the child responds, then share the toy with the grandchild and leave it with her at the end of the visit. This should be considered an olive branch, not a bribe." If the child shows no interest in the toy, Belsky adds, then Grandma should put the toy down so the child can see it. Then she should leave the room. "This will allow the child to explore the toy without losing face," he says. "It's got to be a gradual thing when the child is ready."
Can you help?
NO MORE NO: "I get tired of having to say no constantly to my children," says B.E. of Cleveland, Ohio. "What would be the consequences of just going with the flow more? Is there a better way?"
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