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Grandparents and Discipline: A Roundtable Discussion

Dianna Graveman |28, November 2011


It's a universal truth: children misbehave. Maybe not always, maybe not often. But almost any child who gets tired or hungry or just plain bored will test the boundaries. The challenge comes in knowing when--and in what way--to discipline. If the child in question is your grandchild, the question becomes even trickier. Should the parents' guidelines be followed or should yours? After all, this is your home, right? The child was left in your care. Shouldn't you be in charge?

Surprisingly, a discussion with both parents and grandparents about who should discipline reveals opinions that are remarkably similar.

What Grandparents Say

Verna believes whether or not grandparents should discipline depends on how the term is defined. "If you mean punish, I'd say 'no' unless [the grandparents] have been left in charge," she says. "Instruct the children on how to behave by example, and tell stories from your own experience. Never take charge when a parent is in the room. Then the grandparents should only admire and enjoy. Every child needs unconditional love!"

"I do discipline, but I abide by the wishes of their parents," says Charla, a retired elementary school teacher. "Their rules are our rules. The main thing I focus on is safety and kindness. Tone of voice is very important to me. [The grandchildren] must respect each other and both of us. We almost always have two at a time who are siblings. My teaching background makes it difficult for me to bite my tongue when their parents are around. Goodness, I have a hard time not warning a child to be careful when I am at Walmart. Once a teacher, always a teacher. It was that level of caring for the safety and needs of 25 at once that never goes away."

Donna E. offers this advice about partnering with your adult children as disciplinarians: "I would discuss with your child your expectations for the grandchild's behavior at your house, and ask them to respect that. Our house, our rules; their house, their rules. But when [our adult children] are present, we try to remember to let them handle actual discipline. It's hard not to automatically react; Sometimes everyone reacts, and [our grandchild] has six people correcting him, and sometimes I jump in to back them up. But, overall we prefer to let our children be the parents."

Donna M. cares for her grandchildren all week while their parents work outside the home, so she says she must discipline. "I can't spoil them too much," she says, "or I would pay the price."

Jan agrees. "I believe the parents should do the discipline when they are around, but if I have my grandchildren without the parents, I feel free to discipline as I see fit. We do have similar rules."
Julie will discipline, but draws the line: "As a grandparent, spankings are crossing the line big time," she says. "I will not spank my grandchildren. But I will give time-outs, and I have. I probably won't tell on [my grandchildren], because I do not like double jeopardy."

The Parents' Turn

Laura, mother of one, says she thinks everyone should be in charge of disciplining children, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers. "It takes a village!" she says. "Children also need to learn to respect all authority, not just parents."

Shannon, Cathi, and Bekki feel it is important to discuss discipline methods with your child's grandparents or caregiver well in advance.

"I think grandparents should follow the discipline guidelines that the parents have put into place," Shannon says.

"If I leave my kids with someone I know, they can get out of line," says Bekki. "So I talk to the person, and we discuss what kind of discipline to use if it's needed."

Cathi agrees: "I'm with Bekki. I would think you'd discuss it ahead of time, as with anyone watching your kids. I allow my parents to discipline my kids while under their care. If not, kids can take advantage of the situation, knowing they won't be disciplined. When parents are present, I like for the grandparents to defer to the parents so as not to undercut their authority."

"When I left the kids with their grandparents or my sister," Linda says, "they were allowed to discipline as they felt necessary and per their house rules. But I know them and trust their judgment. If we parents are present, we should be the ones doing any serious discipline."

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