5/30/2022 | By Amy Dickinson

A young mom is concerned about grandpa’s rough-housing with her 4-year-old son. The boy agrees that grandpa, and mom is unsure how to approach this otherwise loving grandfather. See what advice columnist Amy Dickinson says in this edition of “Ask Amy.”

Dear Amy:

Recently my children and I were with my in-laws (their grandparents) at a crowded event where I relied on my father in-law to supervise my son (age 4) while I was with my toddler daughter.

My father in-law tries to connect with my son by “being silly,” which for him means nose pinching, tickling, tug-of-war while holding hands, and general rough-housing and clownish behavior.

Occasionally my son laughs with him, but more often I can tell by his body language that he feels assaulted by all the unwanted touching.

At one point during grandpa’s rough-housing, my son fell down and was sobbing because his grandpa essentially pushed him down via tug of war.

As we said goodbye and grandpa tried to jostle him into a hug (while saying “you don’t have to hug me if you don’t want to”), my son refused to say goodbye at all. I said our goodbyes and it began to dawn on me how much rough-housing had been happening, so I asked my son if grandpa “nudges” him too much.

He said (amazingly) “I love grandpa so much and every time I see him I’m so excited to play but he makes me so sad every time because grandpa is too rough.”

My question is, what is the best way to approach this?

Granddad Playing Photo by Lightfieldstudiosprod Dreamstime. A mom is bothered by grandpa’s rough-housing with her 4-year-old son but is unsure how to approach the situation. What does “Ask Amy” say?

I see a few options. My husband was subjected to this behavior himself as a child. I don’t think he would be able to effectively handle this with his father. I could encourage my son to advocate for himself to his grandpa.

I could tell my father in-law about what my son said, something to the effect of, “I can see you really want to connect with our kids, but what you’re doing is the opposite of connecting.”

I feel like grandpa’s rough-housing is bullying to my son, but I am not sure if I’m projecting my own feelings onto the situation.

Your advice?

Protective Mom

Dear Protective:

It never ceases to amaze me that some adults can look at children who are obviously distressed – and not adjust their adult behavior.

Let’s stipulate that this grandfather is not intentionally being a bully, but he is behaving the way he knows how to behave – and has always behaved with children. He may justify this by believing he is “toughening up the little guy!” – but this behavior from a beloved adult is extremely confusing, as your son articulated so well. And, mind you, the last thing this grandfather wants is for this child to become so tough that he either retaliates (for which his grandfather would likely punish him) or simply avoids him.

Coach your son to express his needs: “Grandpa, no – too rough!”

Also pass along your son’s quoted comments and ask your father-in-law: “Can you dial down the rough-housing? It’s pretty hard on him.”

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from grandpa’s roughing to other grandparenting concerns and more. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. 

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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