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When Parents and Grandparents Disagree About Discipline

How to Make It Work When You and Your Child Clash


One of the most difficult situations faced by a grandparent is disagreeing with how a grandchild is being disciplined. The appropriate course of action for the grandparent depends upon the nature of the discipline being administered.

When Intervention Is Necessary

If grandparents know of an abusive situation, they are bound by the same rules as other people. The parent’s actions must be reported to the proper authorities. It’s important to know the official definition of child abuse and neglect, as well as how your state administers the law. Needless to say, such situations are painful for all involved, but the majority of discipline issues do not involve anything so drastic.

When Intervention May Be Desirable

In a less serious scenario, a grandparent may know of a situation in which the law is not being broken, but the circumstances are clearly unhealthy for the grandchild. In this case, the grandparent is obligated to intervene with the parent on behalf of the child, but the intervention need not involve the authorities. An example would be a parent who belittles a child with a humiliating nickname or with constant negative statements. To intervene effectively, grandparents may need to improve their strategies for communicating with adult children.

When Grandparents May Want to Offer Advice

The third type of situation involves a difference of opinion between the parent and the grandparent. This circumstance is the least distressing and the most common. In fact, most grandparents will be in this position sooner or later. In this situation, when does the grandparent give his or her opinion? It is best to offer it only when it is solicited.

How to Offer Advice

Offering an opinion only when asked is, of course, difficult for many grandparents to accept. But the parent may solicit the grandparent’s input in different ways. Perhaps the parent directly asks the grandparent’s opinion. Or perhaps the parent opens a discussion of the issue involved. In either case, the grandparent may feel free to voice an opinion, as long as tact is used.

For example, perhaps your teenaged grandson has been caught cheating on a test at school. His parents have decided to ground him for a month. Perhaps you feel that a month is too long. Or perhaps you wish his parents would have addressed the circumstances which caused your grandson to feel the need to cheat. Perhaps you would have liked to have seen his poor study habits addressed, as well as his wrong behavior. In this situation, no one knows for certain what the best solution is. Your role is, when invited, to open up those areas of your concern for discussion. The parents will still make the final decision, and you should support that decision, as long as your grandchild is not being abused or treated in a way that is clearly harmful to his physical or mental health.

Grandparents have the reputation of being pushovers when it comes to their grandchildren. That tendency to be indulgent, however, is tempered by the fact that most grandparents grew up in a less permissive era than what exists today. All in all, the breadth of our experiences makes us good sources of advice. But advice is hardly ever welcomed unless it has been asked for, and that’s a tough thing for grandparents to remember.

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