When Mom's away the kids will play: How to discipline a grandchild

Some grandparents hesitate to step into the disciplinarian role when caring for their grandkids. But when Grandma's in charge and a punishment is in order, it helps that the parents give the OK for disciplinary action.

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  • Mom’s turn

  • I am a lucky mom. With four kids, it’s nice to have two sets of grandparents willing to take the reins and babysit once in a while. Fortunately, after many weekends and even weeks-long babysitting gigs, the grandparents still speak to the kiddos, shower them with Christmas gifts and send the obligatory birthday cards. So everyone still seems to like each other ... even love each other.

  • As a parent, I gladly relinquish my duties when my kids are under their grandparents’ care. Of course it helps that I trust them, but I don’t mind at all when my parents or in-laws appropriately discipline my kids. I would never want them to feel hesitant to reprimand my kids; after all, they are doing me a favor. As soon as my husband and I are out the door, they are in loco parentis.

  • After our occasional weekends away, however, my husband and I sometimes get the feeling that the grandparents are reticent to share any issues or problems that arose from our kids. It can be a little difficult to believe that all went picture perfect, or my mom is just extremely nice and forgiving.

  • With little prodding, I have convinced my parents to spill the beans. They describe how they really feel about disciplining their grandchildren. I believe they offer some wise and practical counsel for both grandparents and parents everywhere.

  • Grandpa’s turn

  • Grandparents always like the grandkids to have an enjoyable time while visiting. So if it is for a day or less, discipline may be mild because we won't have them again for a while and we want  the kids to leave feeling good.

  • If the stay will be longer than a day, grandparents need to have similar rules as the parents, and they should be explained so there are no surprises. Discipline should be enforced because as we know, most kids will test the waters. Kids will assume that discipline will be more lax because their parents are not around. Once the kids understand that there are indeed guidelines and rules with the grandparents, discipline shouldn’t be as hard to administer, assuming the grandparents will be fair and consistent — and not give in.

  • If the stay with the grandparents is lengthy, the kids need to have chores, bedtimes, TV limits, good eating habits, etc. Also, the kids are probably dealing with a lot of changes. Hopefully the grandparents will look for ways to talk to and give comfort to the grandkids depending on what they are going through.

  • Grandma’s turn

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  • Every summer I look forward to our grandchildren’s overnights. We have 18 grandchildren that we divide into three groups. This is a time we can indulge, pamper and spoil in a way parents wouldn’t dare – eating fun stuff, staying up late, having “Christmas in July,” and those kinds of activities. There is a special connection between grandparents and grandchildren that is different from that between parent and child.

  • Discipline does become a little slack but this is something every child needs in small doses. I remember as a young girl being treated like a very important guest by my Grandma Rose when I went to stay. When I think of Grandma Rose, I remember her special chocolate chip cookies and how she made me feel so important.

  • On the other hand, children need boundaries. If our grandchildren are staying with us longer than overnight, discipline needs to be consistent with what happens at home. Parents should communicate their expectations to Grandma and Grandpa and tell their children who will be in charge. Grandparents should use typical ways to discipline (timeouts, loss of privileges, etc.) but never shout or use physical force.

  • Several years ago at the end of an overnight, we were getting ready to take the children home. I asked everyone to use the bathroom before we left. One of our twin granddaughters, about 5 years old at the time, got a funny look on her face and said, “Who do you think you are? You’re not my mother!” I responded something to the effect, “No, but your mom is not here and I’m in charge.” She said OK and went to the bathroom.

  • I think it’s great that grandparents are there to reinforce the actions of the parents. It’s especially good that children learn before they enter school that there may be other adults in their lives who will be setting rules and boundaries. It really helps if there is consistency between the adults who influence the lives of children.

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Megan Gladwell and her parents Ken and Cheryl Fugal have teamed up to talk about grandparenting.

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