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How (and when) to discipline grandchildren

Hannah Jolliffe / 23 February 2016

Grandparents love to treat their grandchildren, but should they play a role in discipline too – and when is the right time to step in?

Children being told off
Be consistent with your discipline – and don't contradict the boundaries their parents have set

With an increasing number of grandparents being called upon to help out regularly with childcare duties, getting involved in disciplining can be hard to avoid even if you want to.

“We can advise on discipline, but only if asked. This is frustrating to say the least because just about the time we get the hang of parenting we find we are redundant,” says Rob Parsons, author of The Sixty Minute Grandparent and founder of Care for the Family, a national charity committed to strengthening family life.

Read our guide to being a good granny

The dos and don’ts of disciplining grandchildren

Debbie has five grandsons and is also step-grandmother to six other grandchildren. “The relationship is different to that with your own children; its slightly more detached so I find it’s easier not to react so much.” Debbie believes that having fun with her grandchildren is the priority, but if it gets out of hand she’s clear about stopping.

Take a step back and think about the following before you wade in:

  • Be clear about your own boundaries – in your own mind and with your grandchildren. “I believe it's important for children to respect others, and things like table manners matter to me,” says Debbie.
  • Be consistent – if something was out-of-bounds last week don’t allow it this week. Try not to contradict any clear boundaries their parents have put in place.
  • Don’t double-up on discipline – if the parents are around and have already stepped in to address their children’s behaviour then there’s no need for you to get involved.
  • Offer guidance rather than discipline. “I don’t think you can discipline in the same way you would discipline your own, but there are rules that happen in a home so you have to give some sort of guidance,” says Val, who has six grandchildren aged between five to 16. “For me, it’s about training and showing them what you expect of them.”

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When your view of discipline differs from your child’s

It’s important to realise that there are many ways to discipline children and even if our children’s way is different to ours, it can still be effective. “Of course, there are exceptions in extreme cases where we may be worried about the safety of a grandchild, but generally we must allow our children to parent in their way,” advises Rob.

And that involves offering ‘advice’ on their approach to parenting. Comments like, “You can’t keep picking him up when he cries, he’ll have you running around after him all his life,” are unhelpful – and you run the risk of offending and upsetting your own children.

“If you do give advice, it may be more easily received if you do it with a little humility mixed in,” says Rob. “Try a softer approach, such as: ‘It’s not much good asking me, it was all so long ago, but I seem to remember this working …’.” 

Of course, there are times when it doesn’t hurt to have a quiet word with the parents and see if you can bend their rules a bit. They may not mind you introducing something new if you have discussed it with them first. 

Similarly, if you’re considering breaking one of their rules, see if they mind. Often, parents are happy for their children to be allowed forbidden treats with their grandparents – but it needs to be agreed first. Just be prepared to back down if you don’t get the answer you were hoping for…

Read our tips on setting boundaries with grandchildren

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