How to Go About Disciplining Grandchildren

How to Go About Disciplining Grandchildren

Tips for Disciplining Grandchildren

This can be a thorny subject even for the most well intentioned grandparents. I believe it’s one that requires us to remember back not only to when we were young and how our parents disciplined us, but to when our children were young, how we disciplined them and how we felt when our parents disciplined our kids.

What became very apparent to me, first as a parent and now as a grandparent, is that each generation has its own methods of discipline. I am not suggesting any one method is better than another… they’re simply different. And, as grandparents, we need to recognize that. We also need to realize that the smartest thing to do is defer to our adult children’s methods of disciplining their children, as long as there is no abuse involved. They are, after all, their children.

I remember a time when my Mom dropped over to see the girls when they were young. It had been quite a day — neither of them had taken a nap and they were acting like hellions. They wanted everything and anything and nothing made them happy. I decided to ignore them after I told them that their behavior was totally unacceptable.

I told them that if they settled down and acted like people, I would let them watch Sesame Street.

My Mom, on the other hand, cajoled and bribed the kids with promises of taking them to the store for a toy. That was a tactic that she often used with me, even into my teenage years. I actually got my first airplane ride by being bribed to do well in Latin.

Anyway, needless to say, the girls calmed down, but I wasn’t happy, particularly since I had asked her to ignore them while they were acting out. I felt as if she was undermining my authority. I also didn’t want to discuss the matter with her in front of them. I had tried that before, but her response was always, “They’re only babies.”

Have a Conversation About It

I can see now from the vantage point of being a grandparent that it’s easier to excuse behavior from our grandchildren than from our children.

So, when my kids had kids, I decided that when the time was appropriate, I would sit down with each of them and talk about discipline. I wanted to follow their lead so that, as much as possible, we were on the same page and there wouldn’t be conflict.

That’s not to say that there won’t be times when you’re at odds, or times when the grandkids try to pull the wool over your eyes, but hopefully those times will be few and far between.

I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise to anyone that kids are very perceptive and are very good at playing parents and grandparents against each other — even when they’re as young as two!

I was in New Hampshire recently babysitting Ethan, who’s two, while his parents went skiing. Ethan was about to jump off a chair when I asked him if his Mommy and Daddy let him jump from there. With all the self-assurance in the world, he said “yes.” Same went for the steps leading to their second floor. He wanted to jump off the third step. So, he merrily jumped and jumped and jumped.

When my daughter and son-in-law came home, Ethan was about to jump off the chair when his Mom said, “Ethan no. You know better than that.” Ethan’s reply: “Mimi let me.” Oops! Who knew a two year old could be that astute. After all, jumping hadn’t been on the list they left me.


What do you do as a grandparent when a situation arises and you know there’s going to be a conflict between how you would handle it and how your kids would? If possible, discuss it with your kids ahead of time and try to negotiate something that will satisfy each of you.

For example, when my grandkids come to stay with me, I like to eat dinner at 6:30, not at 7:30 or 8 and I like to eat at the dining room table, not in front of the TV. I also prefer to change diapers downstairs on the floor rather than having to climb the stairs multiple times each day. These are not the ways my kids do things.

After discussing it, we all decided that since this was my home, their rules could be bent to accommodate my wishes.

One of my kids allows her 5 year old to stay up as late as midnight on weekends. I can’t stay up that late. So, when I stay with Cash, I’ve told my daughter that he needs to go to bed earlier or I won’t survive! We’ve arrived at what I think is a great compromise. Cash and I play games after dinner, or we watch a movie, then he gets ready for bed around 9. We have a “late” snack, he brushes his teeth, we read a couple of stories and he’s in bed by 9:45. He’s also allowed to have his lamp on so he can unwind and play or read in bed for a bit. Lights out by 10:15, no argument.

Handing Down Discipline Tactics

Recently, my daughter told me that she used one of the discipline tactics on Cash that I had used when she was young.

When Laurie was 5, she took a neighbour child’s crayons and threw them away because the child, Julie, didn’t want her playing with them. Laurie and I talked about what she had done and why it was wrong.

I asked her what she felt was a just punishment. She told me she would apologize to Julie. I told her that wasn’t good enough, that she needed to truly understand that it’s important to respect another person’s property. She thought about it for a while and decided she would do chores and work to get the money to buy Julie another pack of crayons.

We assigned different chores different amounts of money. It took her close to a month, but she earned the money, bought Julie the crayons and gave them to her with another apology. Ever since then, she’s been respectful of other people’s property… even her sister’s.

I was tickled when she told me she used it with Cash because, number one, her remembering the incident meant it made an impact on her, and number two, she remembered how good she felt that she had a hand in deciding what her punishment should be.

When my kids were young we discussed virtually everything. I do the same thing now with my grandkids. Both generations have always felt free to ask “why” such and such is wrong or “why” they have to do such and such.

“Because I said so,” or, “Because I’m the parent (or grandparent),” just doesn’t cut it for me. I don’t believe anyone learns anything from that. I have never believed, in autocratic rule.

If they come up with a valid reason why they shouldn’t have to do what I requested, then we discuss it and decide on something together. There were many times when the girls were growing up that they were able to persuade me that what I was asking them to do wasn’t reasonable. They gave me very valid reasons, and a discussion and compromise would ensue.

I also believe that as my grandchildren get older, just as their parents before them, they should have a say in their own discipline. I’ve always found that whatever discipline I might hand out is not nearly as harsh as what they hand themselves.

These are the philosophies I followed with my girls. I would like to follow with my grandkids… with their parents’ permission of course.