At the same time, I can see why your grandson’s patterns of behavior concern you. After all, children (not to mention adults) communicate through their actions. A child who feels angry or anxious might bite or kick. A child who feels out of control may try to control a situation with a tantrum. A child who’s confused about boundaries might blur them by invading people’s physical space.
And yet, there could be many reasons why your grandson acts out. Maybe he struggles with self-control because he has a developmental delay and his parents aren’t aware of it or don’t want to share that private information with you. It could be, in fact, that comfort nursing is what helps your grandson calm himself and feel safe and soothed and self-regulated—in the way that snuggling with a stuffed animal or well-worn blanket might for a younger child. Even if something about the family’s interactions are affecting him—like, his parents are afraid to say no or set helpful boundaries—nursing may only be one part (if any) of it. In other words, it’s important to understand the larger context of what might be going on with your grandson.
You say that you and your daughter-in-law don’t communicate well, and while she may be particularly sensitive, it’s also true that she’s not your daughter. Based on the unwritten rules of in-law relationships, she may feel that whatever views you’d like to share should be discussed by you and your own child.
I wonder, then, if you know how your son feels about what’s going on in his child’s life. Does he have a sense of why his 5-year-old was having trouble in preschool, and what might be prompting the other behaviors? Is he on board with the parenting choices in his family or is he, too, hesitant to bring things up with his wife because of her sensitivity? Is he aware that even though his son is back at preschool, the boy might still be struggling?
Without bringing up the nursing, you can approach your son from a place of care versus concern about what you’ve observed, which might make him more inclined to open up a dialogue. Instead of I’m worried that all this coddling is causing little Mikey to act out and maybe it’s time to wean him, you might say: Hey, I’ve noticed that Mikey seems to get really frustrated when we say no to him. It’s probably just a phase, but do you think it would be worth asking your pediatrician about it to see if she has any tips? I’d love to know what’s most helpful when I’m taking care of him. Or: I took Mikey out for ice cream and he seemed to want to rub up against another woman there. I don’t know if you’ve seen that, but I was wondering what you think I should do in those situations to help him understand that other people might not want that.
Of course, your son may not want to talk about any of this with you, or he may feel that your grandson’s behavior isn’t a problem. In that case, you’ll have to keep your thoughts to yourself, because along with the parental right to raise their child as they wish, your son and daughter-in-law also have the right to exclude you from their lives. And not only would that be heartbreaking, but it’d probably leave your grandson worse off: A key way you can help him is to be a loving, consistent presence in his life.