When my nephew was a toddler/pre-schooler, he had major separation anxiety issues and tantrums. Specifically, whenever his grandparents or we (his aunt and uncle) visited him, he'd never let us leave in peace. He'd cry, follow us out of the house, throw tantrums - the entire production. It'd always delay our plans by half hour to one hour. His parents never objected to this behaviour, in fact, I think they even supported it because they found it adorable and/or amusing.

Around 4 years later, we have a 3 year old daughter. She loves it when her extended family comes over, and has a lot of fun with them. But doesn't throw a tantrum when its time to leave. (I think we've raised a sensible and well balanced child) She sometimes asks once or twice if they (or we) could stay for a little while more, and if we say they (or we) can't, she understands.

The grandparents though, seem to misinterpret this as lack of attachment. They told my daughter that when her cousin was her age, he loved them so much, he'd never let them go so easily, that he'd really miss them if they went away, and that he'd often ask for them in the night if he wasn't able to sleep. (That, according to me, was just lack of discipline and sleep training!) I assured them later that she misses them just as much, but just understands that they have to leave. I don't know if I convinced them, but that's the least of my concerns.

When our daughter spoke to us after they left, we found out that they've said things along these lines a couple times before too. She feels really hurt that they think she doesn't love them as much as her cousin. A tearful "Does [bob] love them more, daddy?" broke my heart. I told her everyone loves everyone else the same amount, but have different ways of showing it. I thought that was that, but she seems to have learnt the lesson that the way her cousin showed his love was better. And she actually did cry a lot and told her grandparents not to leave the next time they visited! This has never happened, I've never had more than a pouty face, and nothing I couldn't fix with some explanation and some distraction. But this time she didn't stop crying till the grandparents agreed to stay for 1 more hour.

I'm at a loss now, how do I handle this new development? I don't want to tell her that its her cousin's and his parent's behaviour which was wrong until I absolutely have to. I don't want her to "learn" separation anxiety, nor get her way with her grandparents by crying. I could convince them not to stay back just because she's crying, but would that confuse her more? Would she feel that she can't win their favour no matter what she does?

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    You should explain her than her grand parents have beliefs and understanding from another age, and that YOU will ensure they understand her good behavior the right way. I hate when adults disturb good children like this, it's utterly despicable and wrong. You should have a talk with your parents for them not to do psychological warfare and mistreatment to her as they did (because this is forcing their want on your daughter by constraint and "emotional blackmail"). They need some shrink, not your daughter, that you raised well.
    – Ando Jurai
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 16:43
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    My (nearly three year old) son loves his grandparents so much, and every once in a while asks for us to go to the airport so we can get on a plane and visit them. Despite this, he is usually quite okay with saying goodbye to them when it comes time to leave when either they or we visit and does so with no fuss. I am always surprised at how easy it is for him to leave/let them leave despite wanting them around when they're gone. Not making a fuss, as you pointed out, is not equivalent to not missing them. Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 16:49
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    I don't want to tell her that its her cousin's and his parent's behaviour which was wrong until I absolutely have to. Sounds like you absolutely have to now!
    – Möoz
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 5:04
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    Sounds like you have a grandparents problem as opposed to a daughter problem.
    – Kzqai
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 12:58
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    "Want" is a difficult thing. Yes, your parents do want this. It makes them feel more loved. The word is bare and harsh because it doesn't soften the situation. Yes, it may be that expect is the first thing, but if they hint that she should behave in a certain way, they want her to do it. If they didn't want her to, they wouldn't hint at it. I don't know, however, how cultural this is. I'll look forward to the update. Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 14:23

6 Answers 6


What a pickle you're in!

I find it hard to imagine an adult who demands proof of love from a 3 year old by her being distressed (begging and crying). But there you have it. Your parents delight in your daughter's distress at seeing them go.

Is that loving or is it immature, both, or something else? You decide.

I don't want to tell her that its her cousin's and his parent's behaviour which was wrong until I absolutely have to. I don't want her to "learn" separation anxiety, nor get her way with her grandparents by crying.

I would suggest that you don't need to bring her cousin or their parents into this if you think they were wrong and the cause of this behavior.

Her cousin was perhaps not well-mannered, but he wasn't "wrong". People feel what they feel. You can discuss how different people handle disappointment in different ways including (but not limited to) crying, being angry, shutting down, pouting, accepting it gracefully, being sad, or combinations of these things.

You have a different child, and she is not wrong, either, in the way she handles her feelings. You have taught her to be thoughtful of people and to understand that people have to do things like leave at a certain time, and you're proud of her ability to handle her disappointment the way she does at these times. Tell her it's ok to act the way she does, and it's not ok for her grandparents to suggest she be more like somebody else. She is who she is, and she's a good girl who you love to bits and pieces.

Then I think you should ask your parents why they delight in seeing your daughter so distraught.

I don't know what kind of relationship you have with your parents, but if you can talk to them, go there. They started it; they should have a role in ending it as well. They need to assure her that they know she loves them and doesn't need to prove it by crying and begging them to stay.

If you can't go there with them, the next time they are about to leave, they need to leave regardless of their granddaughter's display. Tell them that you don't want your daughter to beg and cry to get her way, that you're convinced it's better for her to accept that she can't get things by resorting to that behavior. Tell them that that's not going to be charming when she's a teenager and you want to handle it properly now, not later. Then support your daughter, because she is going to be confused. Tell her that if she can go back to just accepting that things are not always going to be the way she wants them to be, she will be happier. If she brings up what they said, tell her they were wrong to compare her to someone else.

It might be awkward, but it's true. And sometimes people are wrong, just like you and everybody else in the whole world.

(BTW, how is the cousin now? If he's better, you might ask your parents if they feel less loved now that he doesn't have a meltdown every time they leave. If they don't, then apply that to your daughter's love. Also, tell your daughter that he's grown out of that behavior, but he still loves his extended family.)

If you can throw in an example of when you were wrong, and when your partner was wrong, and how you finally realized you were wrong, that's helpful.

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    "If she brings up what they said, tell her they were wrong to compare her to someone else." <− This is so right. It's the bane of society. I should add that this is not just bad behaviour. It is downright harmful and I know people who have nearly committed suicide because of their grandparents doing precisely this 'comparing-grandchildren' thing.
    – user21820
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 15:05
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    "I find it hard to imagine an adult who demands proof of love from a 3 year old by her being distressed (begging and crying)." You haven't met my in-laws. It's totally immature, but most adults aren't nearly as mature as you'd think, and dealing family seems to make most people act a bit less mature.
    – Tin Wizard
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 23:19
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    The cousin is almost 8 now, and he's better behaved. Along with other things that I picked up from your answer, I told her that her cousin does not do it anymore. Because he's a big boy now. That seemed to resonate with her the best, I think I may have convinced her. And I have you to thank for it! I'll post an update about her behaviour, the next time the grandparents visit. I'll find a way to talk to them about all this too, lest they undo everything the next time!
    – sodapop
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 7:51
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    I find it hard to imagine an adult who demands proof of love from a 3 year old by her being distressed (begging and crying). - I've often seen in south asian cultures that insisting on (to the extent of forcing, in rare cases) things like eating more and staying longer is seen as an expression of love. The more, the better. I'm not saying OP is south asian, I'm merely pointing out that this situation is quite common in the world.
    – learner101
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 8:22
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    @GreySage - You are free to believe what you believe, but I disagree. My belief is that temper tantrums in such young children are a result of being overwhelmed by uncomfortable feelings, not 'bad behavior'. How one frames an issue determines how one will deal with it. If the child is overwhelmed, the appropriate response is to work with the child on how to handle their feelings. If you think it's 'bad behavior', it's likely to be punished. What I think is truly terrible is emotionally abandoning or rejecting a child who is already overwhelmed. Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 20:40

I'd have a question for the grandparents: "Do you want her to be happy to stay, or sad to leave?" It looks to me like the grandparents are assuming that those two have to come hand in hand.

I know it's a very short answer, but it seems to be the key question. If they confound "happy to stay" with "sad to leave," then I'd say we've found the real issue right there.

I know if I was a young kid and the world was full of adventures, I'd be more than happy to go on my next adventure, even if it meant leaving the grandparents.


Make a farewell gift or some other token of affection.

Not everyone shows feeling the same way, but also not everyone notices all kinds of signs of feelings. If her grandparents are having trouble recognizing or appreciating her feelings as she normally expresses them help her more clearly communicate them in an acceptable manner.

Thank you cards, pictures or drawings of favorite memories and trinkets featuring hearts are common forms of unmistakable signs of affection. Encouraging the girl to instigate a promise of future visits might also be effective if appropriate.

Making plans to make these things can also help pull a kid out of a tantrum too.

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    Along with the suggestions given by anongoodnurse, I took yours too. We made a little card, where she drew 3 stick figures, holding hands near some blue squiggly lines - her, her grandma and grandpa's day at the beach! They thought it was very sweet. Thank you!
    – sodapop
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 6:02

Oh goodness your parents would have issue with my kids. I often have to prompt them to even say goodbye, as they will sort of say it over the shoulder, lightly, when involved in something else. I do think manners matter, so I tell them when people leave we should take a pause and go say goodbye, just like I do when I tell them to greet people that are arriving.

Aside from that, I have three very different kids who at different ages were upset over guests leaving. It happens. I didn't teach them to do it, and I didn't teach them to stop. I have seen different kids do this too. I also watch kids & have seen some kids do great with drop off time & others fall apart. I am kind to them all, so it's not me, and I have seen one sibling at 2 who was totally fine & the next be very upset. Same parents, siblings, just different personalities.

So I would refrain from judging your relative's parenting & assessing what they have caused or even believing you as a parent can create a child who won't do this, it's a sure fire way to have a kid come along & make you a liar. I'd instead focus on telling your child her feelings & the way she expresses things is fine (assuming it is) and not worry about anyone else. I'd tell my parents to knock it off with planting guilt on a child because they don't feel adored enough & let it go. Some kids for sure feel things deeper. We do not all "love everyone the same". I have a child who can become emotionally attached to a rock & another one who hardly cares to miss me even if it's been several days. It's how they are wired.

I come from a larger family, all same parents, all similar upbringing. My parent's had no major shifts in income, jobs, etc that would even account for much variance in experience, yet we are all so different. Some are happy go lucky, others think doom & gloom, some are very material focused & others very earthy. It's who we were born as. My parents influenced how those personalities evolved, but they didn't give us the personalities. We arrived with those. Same with kids. My 1st & 2nd child couldn't have been more different in the way they interacted with us as parents and with others when small. One of my children wanted to be right with you all the time. The other wanted space & to just observe people instead of being interacted with. Even when small, when he had too much interaction, he's just turn his face away & refuse to look at anyone.

So the point is, just help your daughter to love herself the way she is & speak up any time someone tells her there is anything wrong with her being herself. It's not wrong that one of my kids wants to connect with every person he passes & another would prefer to not even meet you. That is okay. The world needs both types of people.


When my wife taught pre-school it was key that some parents, who dropped off their kids, should do so and then leave, promptly: she had children who would cry for as long as their parents were hanging around showing separation anxiety, but as soon as the parents left the kids would be fine.

So enlist the grandparents' help: persuade them that when it's time to stay they should stay, and when it's time to go then they should go... that separation anxiety is a bad thing etc.


Next time you see your parents ask why they told your daughter that they loved your nephew more than your daughter. Frame it exactly like that. Say both her and you were really upset by this. Ask if they love your sibling more than you too. Lay it on thick and see if you can make them feel really bad about it. Ideally their cheeks will redden and they will feel very uncomfortable and shameful. Don't get angry, the goal here is maximising the emotion of shame and regret. If you can cry, do so.

Why do this you might ask?

People avoid unpleasant things, trying to appeal to people's logic rarely works, you need to create an emotional hook back to an unpleasant experience they will want to avoid repeating both consciously and unconsciously. Then, even if they don't accept what you are saying, they are still likely to 'play nice' in future to avoid the unpleasantness.

You may feel bad about this, but it is exactly what they have just done to your daughter.


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