Of all the things that grandparents and parents argue about, discipline is a big one. Each new generation feels they can improve on the job their parents did by implementing different strategies for disciplining their children. So how do we grandparents handle the delicate balance of disciplining our grandchildren?
When a conflict arises, it’s important for everyone to talk about what’s going on and be willing to compromise. Ultimately, we must follow the parents’ rules when we’re in their presence. Never openly disagree with your adult children’s form of discipline or you’ll undermine their effectiveness. Discipline is primarily the parents’ responsibility. But if your grandchild is in your care, then as the responsible adult, you should try to protect and teach the child what is right in a constructive manner.
Dr. Heidi Feldman addressed the subject of disciplining grandchildren at a GaGa Sisterhood meeting. Heidi is a pediatrician and professor of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Stanford Medical School and also a member of the GaGa Sisterhood. Heidi shared some guidelines for effective discipline based on the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Guidelines for Effective Discipline
Create a proper setting. Use consistent rules in a safe environment; set boundaries that are age appropriate. If you can’t remove knickknacks when grandchildren visit, provide some other age-appropriate substitutes. One member gives her grandchildren baskets of rocks and shells at her house.
Model what you want to see. Heidi says she feels strongly about “crimes against people” when hitting is involved. She asks the victim to tell her what she did when she got hit because she wants to teach her how to say “no and stop.” Adults should be curious but not reactive when trying to resolve conflicts and suggest how they could work things out.
Reward for doing what’s right. For older children a responsibility board using stars can be an effective reward system. For younger children immediate natural reinforcement is easier, e.g., say: “Take one bite of spinach, and then you can have dessert.”
Give honest negative reinforcement when rules are violated. Time outs only work when children are going to miss out on something or have time away from something desirable. It’s better to take away a privilege. Time out in public can be challenging if it means you have to remove the child from the scene, as in the grocery store. She suggests you say: “I’m giving you a time out from me and I’m not going to talk to you for two minutes.”
Reinforce desirable behavior by using positive statements. For example, if your grandchild is running around the swimming pool, instead of saying, “Don’t run,” say “Let’s practice walking around.” You can help establish a new behavior pattern by saying: “You can pat the kitty and my hands will help your hands,” rather than “Don’t smack her.”
Avoid corporal punishment. Spanking stops behavior but it doesn’t teach. It’s much better to teach alternative behaviors.
General Discipline Reminders
- Notice if the child is hungry or tired.
- Don’t be afraid to draw the line.
- In time-outs remove yourself and don’t talk to the child.
- Get the child’s attention by getting down on his level.
- Talk slowly and softly.
- Acknowledge the child’s feelings.