1/27/2022 | By Terri L. Jones

When our grandkids misbehave in our presence, our natural instincts as long-time parents and disciplinarians kick in. Many times, however, our initial reactions may not be consistent with what our own offspring want for their children. What can we do in disciplining grandchildren, in not letting bad behavior slide while respecting their parents’ wishes?

Five-year-old Allen was visiting his Grandma Polly with his parents. One day, while none of the adults were looking, Allen climbed up onto the bar in the kitchen and started helping himself to the bowl of candy his grandmother kept there.

When Polly came back into the kitchen, she was shocked and firmly told her grandson to get down. Allen said his mommy let him sit on the kitchen counter at home and refused to budge. His grandmother picked him up, set him on floor, and informed him that climbing up on the bar was not only unsafe but also unhygienic.

Ten minutes later, Allen had crawled up there again. That’s when Polly not only yanked him off but also gave him a quick smack on the bottom. When Allen’s mom came into the kitchen, her son wasted no time in telling on his grandma. Polly’s daughter was in disbelief as her mother knew that she didn’t believe in spanking her children!

To discipline or not to discipline

Every grandparent has gone through a situation like this. When the offspring of your offspring misbehaves, it’s difficult to keep from delivering the same consequences as you gave your own kids. But whether your manner of discipline is essentially the same as your kids’ or not, the experts all agree that you should let your adult children take the lead.

“In the long run, it’s best for the kids and family if the parents do the parenting – even if a grandparent disagrees with the approach,” explained Carl Grody, MSW, a family counselor in Worthington, Ohio.

When are you the boss?

That’s all well and good when the grandkids’ parents are around, but sometimes you’ll be on your own with them. You won’t want to always resort to the old “wait until your parents get home” ruse. That’s why it’s important to communicate with their parents in advance about how to handle cases of disobedience or just bad behavior.

“At some point when you become a grandparent, you need to sit down with your adult child and figure out the best way to handle behavior-related situations,” Denver-based Nancy S. Buck, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist, grandmother, and author of How to Be a Great Parent told

Depending on how the grandkids are acting out, your adult children should let you know the discipline they’d like you to use (timeouts, grounding, taking away a personal item such as a toy or phone, etc.) or request that you let them mete out the punishment – whether over the phone or when they return. If they’re comfortable with you reprimanding them, go over specific scenarios, like missing curfew or refusing to go to bed, and the resulting consequences.

Keep an open mind

Your kids’ manner of discipline may be exactly the same as yours (after all, that’s what they know). However, it may be completely different from the type of punishment they had as kids. Don’t take that departure personally. Their parenting style has been influenced by many factors, including compromising with their spouse, who may believe in a different type of discipline, and philosophical parenting changes in society.

Be sure to listen and keep an open mind to what the new parents have to say. If you’re not open to your kids’ parenting style, you risk alienating them, which will make this whole issue moot because they’ll be hesitant to leave their kids with you in the first place.

Be consistent in disciplining grandchildren

As a grandparent, you will probably want to spoil those sweet, extremely adorable kids and let them get away with murder most of the time. However, you can’t exact punishment willy-nilly. Once it’s decided how (or even if) you will be disciplining grandchildren, establish expectations and consequences with the kids themselves and then be consistent about it.

They won’t love you any less for laying down the law, but they will respect a whole lot more!

Related: Tips for grandparents raising grandkids

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Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones