Q: My son and daughter-in-law recently adopted a five-year-old from Ethiopia. They told us we cannot hold, hug, or kiss our grandson. This is torture for us. He seems like such an affectionate child—are we really supposed to do nothing when he blows us kisses or runs up and tells us he loves us?
A: When a child joins a family later in childhood, he has to learn what family is and form a strong attachment to his new parents. Previously, he had to get attention from anyone who would give it. This indiscriminate affection pattern must be interrupted. Research shows that allowing it to persist is harmful to social development, short- and long-term.
That being said, I often exclude grandparents from the lap-sitting, hugs, and kisses for parents only rule. Why don’t you discuss your concerns, assuming the best of the child’s parents? Talk about what you can do within the boundaries they have laid down. You could propose that you blow a kiss back (rather than kissing on the cheek) or say something like right back at ya (rather than I love you). Play is a great way to stimulate attachment. When your grandson runs up to you, respond with twinkling eyes and a quick game of Hide and Seek—true relationship-building for a five-year-old.