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Carolyn Hax: Grandmother tries to connect with hard-to-love grandchild

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I must’ve hit the jackpot, as my first six grandkids are easy to love and love me right back. Not so with the seventh. When his parents bring him over, he doesn’t even greet his grandfather or me. He makes a beeline for the TV and doesn’t even acknowledge us.

I’ve read your column for years and strive not to judge or criticize my family and to love unconditionally. I’m also aware that some kids are reserved, some display affection, etc., and I respect that. In that spirit, I’ve never told his parents to urge him to relate to me/us. As a kid I hated being told, “Go give Aunt Bertha a hug,” and never did that to my own kids.

Just the same, it hurts. Should I just back off and accept that it is what it is?

– Grandparent

I winced, and can’t be the only shy person who did.

I also sympathize. People who don’t connect easily with others can be tough to have around, tweaking some old, “Is it me?”-type insecurities.

But still, doesn’t the idea that a child is hard to love – which is what you’re actually saying when you describe the others as “easy to love” -- prompt you at all to do the extra work, instead of just giving him up to TV?

Please try, for the child’s sake. Ask his parents what he enjoys doing, and invite suggestions for cultivating a relationship -- without comparing him to the “easy” kids. Just say you’ve noticed he’s more solitary, which is an observation versus a judgment, and hope to get to know him better.

An easy fix is turning the TV off when grandkids visit. A little tougher will be finding ways to peel off with him one-on-one, but it’s possible with a little preparation.

You can ... read to him, maybe, or have him read to you? Have him help you make lunch? Build a Lego castle together? Can he show you videos he likes to watch? Tell you why he likes certain TV shows?

I agree with you on forced affection, but that doesn’t preclude finding ways to work together, side-by-side, getting to know each other through activities but entirely at his pace.

You’re trying, to your significant credit. But the hard-to-love kids need people like you most – the ones who notice their needs are different and have the time and access to learn and then meet those needs. This is especially true if he has other things going on neurologically, which is certainly possible here.

Re: Grandchild:

There’s absolutely no reason his parents should allow him to make a beeline to the television without acknowledging his grandparents. I know bringing this up to the parents is thorny, but they are the first step here, rather than just telling the grandparents to make more of an effort.

– Anonymous

I can’t make suggestions to a person who hasn’t written to me, in this case the parents.

And if the grandparents challenge the parents, then that opens the door to defensiveness, a big and unnecessary obstacle. Better for the grandparents just to do what they can with their end of the relationship -- in this case, turn off the TV and look for common ground.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon each Friday at washingtonpost.com.