Should grandparents discipline their grandkids?

Disciplining children has always been controversial - should you smack, should you use a naughty corner, should you take away privileges? Grandparents and discipline might be even more controversial.  

By Sabrina Rogers-Anderson 

“Times have changed.” If you so much as think about reaching for the wooden spoon when your grandchild gives you lip, you’re likely to hear this from their parents.

But even if you’d never consider using physical punishment on your grandkids, you may be surprised to be pulled up when you dish out even the gentlest form of discipline.

At the other end of the spectrum, your children may accuse you of being too permissive with their mini-mes.

Can grandparents ever get it right?!

With clear expectations and a few ground rules, you can make sure you’re all on the same page and avoid friction. 

Here’s what families had to say about intergenerational discipline and some tips for creating harmony.

Your children think you’re too harsh

When Lisa’s parents discipline her nine-year-old daughter, she’s immediately transported back to her own difficult childhood.

“We have embedded intergenerational trauma, so I’m triggered by my parents' treatment of my daughter,” says Lisa. “Not just around disciplinary action because my daughter is often the ‘good girl’ around them, but also around having to give unwanted hugs or being judged harshly for being an introvert.

“But this time around, I won’t submit, fawn, people-please or hide like I did when I was a child. My protective mum instinct helps me fight back and find my voice to advocate for my daughter.”

May is on the same page as her mother and stepfather when it comes to disciplining her two kids, 7 and 4, but it’s an entirely different story when it comes to her father.

“I’ve always laid down the law before leaving my kids with him that we 100% do not hit our kids,” she says. “He was an Irish Catholic family man and it was all about discipline. He still smacked me when I was 17.”

Pam, 67, has looked after her daughter’s three school-age children several times a week since they were born and she sees disciplining them as part of the job description.

“My daughter is a busy single mother who works full-time,” says Pam. “She’s always exhausted and overwhelmed, and her kids take advantage of that to walk all over her. I’ve had a hand in raising them since birth, so I have no qualms about disciplining them. My daughter sometimes rolls her eyes when I punish them, but she needs my help so that’s the way it is.”

Your children think you’re too soft

Are lollies and late bedtimes on the menu when you’re watching your grandkids? That might not fly with the parentals.

“Wait, some grandparents discipline their grandchildren?!” laughs mum-of-two Jade. “My kids get away with anything at Oma's house. Her motto is ‘Oma's house, Oma's rules.’ It's super frustrating. The kids could eat, do and behave however they feel, and Oma would say, ‘It's OK, it’s Oma's house.’ It's like all the discipline was used on me and my brother 30 something years ago!”

Cara often feels that her mother-in-law undermines her authority with her 10-year-old daughter. 

“I’ll tell my daughter to tidy up her toys after playing and my mother-in-law says, ‘Oh, don’t worry about that, just leave it,’” she explains. “She’s also aware that I’m very strict about sugar and treats, but whenever my daughter goes to her place, she has a lolly or treat ready for her. I don’t feel like I can argue with her as she does it all in such a kind and gentle way, and my husband won’t say anything because their family is very confrontation-averse.”

It’s a team effort

When Amy was a child, she clashed with her mother regularly. But since she and her son were diagnosed with ADHD, everything has changed.

“My parents are beautifully patient with my kids,” Amy says. “My mum is able to step back now and help both me and my son regulate. My dad even gives my son foot massages when he’s dysregulated and it’s beautiful. They live overseas, so it’s only in intense bursts, but I’m grateful for them.”

Disciplining Ali’s daughters, aged 2 and 4, is a family affair and she wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“All of our girls' grandparents, aunts and uncles discipline our girls,” she says. “They’re toddlers, so it’s generally only a stern voice or removing them from a situation, but I have no problem with it. All of our family understands and respects how we parent, and they go along with it and never undermine us. We don’t smack, so they don’t smack. But if they did, I wouldn’t like it and I’d definitely talk to them about it.”

With 2 boys under 2, Brittney has her hands full. Her parents are very helpful and hands-on, but sometimes Brittney has to save them from toddler tornados.

“I find it quite funny watching my parents get flustered if my son is doing something he shouldn’t,” she laughs. “It’s like they’re too scared to say anything in front of me in case I don't approve. If he’s being too much, I always step in and show them how I’d respond to him. Lucky for them, my kids are usually angels for them.”

Sarah tells her boys, 3 and 6, that what happens with their grandparents stays with their grandparents.

“I explain that the rules their grandparents have for their place or when they’re looking after them are their rules, and ours may be different,” she explains. “We do smack our boys - not a flogging, just a sharp tap on the hand or bottom - but I don’t think I’d like anyone else to do that.”

In Sharina’s Malaysian-Indian family, everyone can discipline children so long as it aligns with their parents’ values.

“My parents discipline my nephew in a toned-down manner compared to how they were with us,” says Sharina. “It does sometimes cause friction with my sister, but ultimately it’s a compromise and the best of both worlds. It’s all about respect, kindness and culture for them.”

4 tips for harmonious family relationships around grandparenting issues

Clashing with your children when it comes to disciplining your grandkids? Experts from Stanford Medicine say it’s the parents’ job to decide how to discipline their children unless they indicate otherwise. 

That said, there are several steps you can take to make family relationships smoother.

1. Keep an open mind

Try to understand why the parents want to use certain disciplinary tactics. It’s true that times have changed and many parents now use gentler responsive parenting techniques that have been shown to result in better outcomes, including better confidence, self-esteem, and physical and mental health. 

Responsive parenting, which involves responding in a timely manner to a child’s needs and validating their emotions, is endorsed by the Australasian Association of Parenting and Child Health.

2. Communicate openly 

If you disagree with something the parents are doing, especially if you have genuine concerns for your grandchildren’s wellbeing, pick an appropriate time to discuss it.

It’s better to address issues when the parents are relaxed rather than stressed and rushing around.

Start by offering praise for what the parents are doing right before raising your concern and asking for their input.

For example, “Oliver has become so much gentler with his little brother lately, so your efforts have really paid off. But I do notice that when he’s tired or hungry, he snatches his brother’s toys or hits him. Do you have any ideas on how we could prevent that from happening?”

3. Set clear expectations

While discipline is mainly the parents’ domain, you still have a say in what happens under your roof.

You have every right to set rules in your house that are different from the parents’ rules, such as taking their shoes off at the door and not eating in the living room.

If your grandkids’ or your safety is in danger, you have a right to take action to prevent anyone getting hurt.

Make sure expectations and rules are clear when your grandkids are in your care, and be consistent. When you send mixed messages, children may get confused or push boundaries.

4. Respect your children’s choices

Your children are entitled to raise their kids as they see fit and make their own mistakes. Parenting is a steep learning curve!

So, do your best to respect their decisions even if you disagree with them.

But if you’re concerned that your grandchild is at risk of or experiencing neglect or abuse, call a parenting helpline without delay for advice.

Read more about grandparenting on Citro:


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