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Ever since he started preschool, my grandson has been rejecting me!
Q: I'm a grandmother who has been taking care of my 3-year-old grandson since birth because my daughter works. My grandson has always been loving and intelligent. Lately, though, he has been mean and disrespectful to me. He says he doesn't like me. Of course, that breaks my heart. Ever since he started preschool, he has turned into this little boy I don't know. He is OK if I bring him presents; then he is my "friend" and won't be mean to me. That's not what should be done, but I'm desperate to have him love me like he used to.

Does preschool have anything to do with his behaviour? He had never stuck his tongue out at anyone until now. My daughter seems to think that I should ignore it and keep on being the grandparent I have always been. It's easier said than done because I'm a very emotional person and anything anyone does to me, I seem to take personally. My poor heart has been broken so much that it must be crumbs by now.
A: Your story is very touching, Lu, and I hope my reaction will help in some way. First, let me say that, if your grandson is in a good preschool, it has nothing to do with his disrespect and thoughtlessness. Helping children learn politeness and concern for others is an integral part of any good preschool curriculum, so I doubt that your grandson’s behaviour stems from his experiences there. There are probably many other things that could influence his behaviour but, as I don’t have all the information, I may simply be guessing. I’ll do the best I can by venturing two possible explanations.

My first guess is that he really likes preschool and is afraid that he will have to stop attending and return to being cared for by you full-time. If that happened, he would miss the contact with other children and access to a wider variety of play materials than most homes can provide. If he is concerned that this might happen, it should not be interpreted that he doesn’t love you. He may perceive you as a threat to that and think that, if he is ugly to you, you won’t want him.

The second guess is that you may have been doing too much to buy his love (bringing him presents, etc.). Parents who travel a lot usually learn rather quickly how easily that can happen. If every homecoming involves a present, all too soon the greeting stops being, “Hi, dad or mum” and instead becomes, “What did you bring me?” So I would recommend that you be very careful about bringing presents to him except on very special occasions.

Let me urge you not to let this break your heart. Don’t accept his ugly behaviour (like sticking his tongue out at you), and tell your daughter to back you up. Refuse to care for him if he acts that way, and I predict you’ll get plenty of support from your daughter. Certainly it sounds as though she needs you for back-up care, if not for full-time care. Finally, get some interests of your own so your happiness won’t be so dependent on your grandson’s good behaviour and manners.