When Parents and Grandparents Disagree About Discipline

How to Make It Work When You and Your Child Clash

child discipline
Sometimes grandparents may think that parents' discipline is too harsh or scary for their grandchildren. Photo © Cultura RM/Ian Nolan | Getty Images

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 how the discipline is being administered.

When Intervention Is Necessary

If grandparents know of an abusive situation, they are bound by the same rules as other people. Their information must be shared with the proper authorities.

It’s important to know the official definition of child abuse and neglect, as well as how your state defines abuse. (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 do you give your opinion? Although some feel comfortable offering advice only when it is solicited, you may wait a very long time for this to happen.

How to Offer Advice

Sometimes parents don't directly solicit advice from grandparents, but instead open a discussion of the issue involved. Feel free to voice an opinion in such a case, as long as you use tact.

For example, let's say 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. When invited, however, you can open up those areas 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 a breadth of experience that can make us good sources of advice. But we must resist offering advice too often, if we want to be listened to when the subject is really serious.

On the Other Hand

Some grandparents feel that their grandchildren need more discipline in their lives, not less.

While grandparents are often pushovers when it comes to their grandchildren, they also grew up in a less permissive era than what exists today. This generational difference can lead to situations like this one, in which the grandparents question whether they are too strict with their grandchildren.

The generations may also disagree about spanking. Most grandparents were spanked as children and may have used this disciplinary technique with their own children. Many parents today contend that spanking is an ineffective method for disciplining children. Many of them have opted for some of the many alternatives to spanking. If this is the philosophy of your children, you must respect their decision. After all, our generation did not get everything right.

On the other hand, if your grandchildren are still spanked and you disagree with the practice, you must accept that the parents have the right to discipline as they choose, as long as they are not abusive.