Should I discipline my grandchildren?

There are few accomplishments in life quite like being a grandchild’s favourite person (or even just in the top three). To see them light up with happiness when they visit and to hear them bursting to tell you about their latest adventures is a uniquely warm fuzzy feeling.

With grandparents being the primary source of informal care for kids, it’s clear that you’ll be a sure favourite with your tired adult kids, too.

Of course, no one ever wants to be the “bad grand-guy” and enforce rules and discipline, but children being children, there will always be times when they need to learn that certain behaviours are unacceptable.

But whose responsibility is it? Can you get away with only ever being there for cookies and playground visits, rather than discipline?

When is it your responsibility to discipline grandkids?

Your best bet is to get ahead of the situation. That is, ask their parents what their opinion is before you spend time with your grandchild, and before you’re in a position where they need to be pulled up on naughty behaviour.

Are your children happy for you to discipline their kids? Are there ways they would like you to approach this? Or would they prefer that you tell them about the child’s behaviour so they can deal with the issue later on?

Deferring to your adult child will ensure that any discipline is consistent with what they’re doing, both in terms of what requires discipline in the first place, and how you carry it out. It’ll help the grandchild to learn that the rules still exist, even when mummy and daddy aren’t around.

Of course, don’t forget the post-match discussion with your kids if you’ve had to discipline their kids during your time babysitting. This’ll help to keep everything transparent, and will give you a chance to discuss ways to handle the situation better in the future as well.

What kind of discipline are we talking about here?

The kind of discipline depends largely on the age of the child, the extent of their behaviour, and what their parents prefer.

That said, 89% of Kiwi parents say they turn to their own parents for advice on how to manage their young ones’ poor behaviour, so you likely know a thing or two already.

Whether it’s as simple as not sharing toys with a sibling to something as dangerous as running out onto a road, you and your adult kids are the best judges of the level of discipline required.

Here are a few ideas:

  • no screen time today (a catastrophe for many modern kids!)
  • no treats (a catastrophe for any child visiting their grandparents)
  • extra household chores
  • early bedtime 
  • apologising to their sibling (or asking fighting siblings to hug for a full minute)
  • a classic timeout 

Dealing with unruly grandkids

Ever since the anti-smacking law came into place in 2007, there’s been more of a focus on positive discipline. This kind of discipline is hardly discipline at all, but rather, better communication and reinforcement of positive behaviours.

Positive practices include:

  • praising and rewarding positive behaviours and manners
  • clearly communicating expectations
  • acknowledging their feelings 
  • giving them time to calm down and react more positively 
  • reasoning and negotiating

For example, you might sit down with the child before an event and communicate your expectations, and also agree on repercussions if they act up. For example, if you go to a restaurant and they’re really noisy, you might agree to leave early and have ‘boring’ sandwiches at home instead.

This clear communication, expectation sharing, and reasoning may offer a more positive experience for everyone. And maybe you don’t have to be a “bad” grandparent after all!