Is It Ever OK For Grandparents To Discipline The Grandkids?

When your parents look after your kids, bad blood can arise over different approaches; Kirst North steps warily through the possible pitfalls.

is it ever ok for grandparents to discipline the grandkids

‘In my day, we’d get two licks of the cane from a teacher for being naughty and if our parents found out, we’d get the belt as well, just to make sure we didn’t do it again’.

How many of us have heard tales like that from our parents about how discipline was instilled during their childhood?

In the last 30 years or so, “parenting” has changed beyond all recognition. The “child-centred” approach many of us favour only really became popular in the mid- to late-Nineties, so is it surprising that when it comes to discipline, disagreements between the generations can regularly happen?

It’s fair to say that most grandparents know they can’t take a cane to their grandchildren, but many still feel that an occasional tap on the hand for “naughty” behaviour is acceptable.

“Nanny said my boy had bitten a neighbour’s child and that the only way to cure a ‘fangy little biter’ was to bite him back – I was so angry”

In fact, their far more liberal children would be horrified even by the word “naughty”; the idea of any kind of physical punishment for it would be abhorrent to them.

Christine, who is a parent to two boys, experienced this clash of outlooks when her oldest son, then a toddler, started biting.

“I’d tried everything to stop him,” says Christine, “but he was still doing it. We were determined though, that we were going to beat it without resorting to physical methods. I just don’t believe you should counter violence with violence

“One day, I had to leave him with my husband’s mum and when I came back he seemed really subdued. That night he told me, ‘Nanny bit me’. I called to ask her what was going on and she said he’d bitten a neighbour’s child and that the only way to cure a ‘fangy little biter’ was to bite him back.

“I was so angry. She knew I disagreed with that style of discipline and did it anyway. In her defence it has never happened again but at the same time, it really broke my trust in her and it was a while before I’d leave her in charge”.

Use of language is another area that can be a sticking point between grandparents and their children.

Melanie, also a mum-to-boys found this with her parents when they were babysitting. She said:

“My mum said things to my kids using language I didn’t like so I had to give her harsh words.

“I don’t tell my kids that they’re stupid, I tell them what they’ve done is stupid. My parents however repeat things that their parents said to them and think nothing of it. I can see the damage done by using certain words.”

Issues such as the above are tricky to navigate, but if you only see one another occasionally, they can usually be dealt with without too much lasting damage.

But, what if you’re one of the five million “grand-nannies” providing childcare services regularly for your children’s kids?

Most of us feel that within reason “their house, their rules”. Mum-of-three girls Nikki Roberts suggests having agreements set in place before any childcare happens:

“They have to be able to offer discipline, otherwise the kids will think there are no boundaries at all, but I think both sides should discuss the rules first to avoid issues arising on things like smacking.

“For instance, I hate children being sent to their bedrooms as a punishment, as I feel bedrooms should always be little places of calm, so I wouldn’t want that to happen”.

In an ideal world, parties would be reasonable in these situations and find resolution, but what about issues where Mum and Nan simply cannot agree? Grandparent and foster mum of 30 years Jenny Whinnett suggests finding common ground and remembering that for both sides the priority is the wellbeing of the child, for whom consistency is key.

Says Jenny: “Remember – a child is what they live.”

It’s a cliché, but practising what you preach in this instance is critical – after all, how can either side penalise a child for using unkind language or unreasonable behaviour if they’re not prepared to set a good example themselves?

Finally, what happens when the clashes are over not disciplining children. Many grandparents who, while sergeant-major strict in their own day, turn into fluffy, sweetie-packing kittens when much-loved grandkids come along. No bedtimes, refusal to adhere to what may be considered “faddy” diets, devices on demand – no wonder so many of our kids love time at Grandma or Granddad’s house.

It might feel to you that you’re simply doting on your children’s offspring, and “parenting” them is no longer your problem. After all, you’ve done your years of rules and regulations, and trust that your kids had a perfectly good example of how to do the same.

However, for your frustrated children, picking up kids buzzing on E-Numbers and sugar who melt down the second they’re back home, a refusal to support them with raising the little ones right can feel unfair and downright disrespectful of their authority.

It’s good to remember that if our teens are when we push the boundaries of independence, becoming parents ourselves is when we really establish that we are people in our right – people with our own ideas of how things should be done.

By not acknowledging that, you’re teaching both your own child and their children that their ideals don’t matter, which can actively harm their relationship.  

Even if you think that your daughter’s sugar-free diet is a quick way to create a faddy eater, or that your son-in-law is clearly insane to believe that ignoring little Johnny when he pees on the rose bushes is ever going to stop it, it’s best to follow their lead.

After all, remember the golden rule of grandparenting – the joy is in knowing that you can always hand them back…

And parents – don’t sweat the small stuff. If you ever want a night off yourselves, turning a blind eye to the occasional Haribo may be a small price to pay for freedom…