Should grandparents discipline kids? Or tell their adult offspring their thoughts on the best ways to discipline children? To find out, Family Goes Strong talked with child development expert Barbara Bowman, co-founder of the Erikson Institute, past president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children – and a grandma. Excerpts:
What should grandparents do if they disagree with the way their adult kids are handling discipline?
You can tell the children what you've observing without a value statement. Is there something going on, is there a problem? But you can't say, "There's something wrong with Johnny. You need to take him to see someone." Grandparents can only give their observation. You can't be too judgmental about how they're choosing to raise their children.
What about when grandkids are at grandma's house?
My practice was if they're staying with me, they have to mind me. If you leave them in my care, I will discipline them. You can tell me what kind of discipline you don't want, but I have to be able to discipline them. [Normally], it is a grandmother's privilege to be the good person and not the bad person. That's grandma's privilege is to spoil. Grandmothers laugh and read stories and take you to fun things to do — except if you're in her charge. In that case she changes to someone who knows how to set limits. Once kids get adolescents, their parents should tell them what they can and cannot do, even if the grandparent is ultimately responsible.
What's an example of what a grandmother could say to an adult child who is a parent?
"I tried to help Suzy with her puzzle, and she had a hysterical fit, and I notice she does that all the time." It's that kind of observation. You're not saying there's anything wrong with it. You're just saying, "That's what I see." You do need to communicate really bad things [like hitting or stealing.] Otherwise, the grandparents' job is to be there and be supportive. You have to be supportive of your children, too. You can't be the angel and the parents are the bad guys. Grandparents really need to support their children's parenting. Parenting is really hard.
What's the secret to being a good grandparent?
Just be a good friend to both your children and your grandchildren. You're no longer the mother, you're no longer the parent. It's difficult, particularly with that first grandchild, to give up that role of know-it-all and let your children parent and build their confidence in their own ability to parent.
Times are different.
Child rearing has changed, and grandparents need to understand that their children have to raise their children to get along in the world they live in. It's even more complicated as our children get older, and some of our children are marrying people who don't have the same backgrounds, the same belief systems, the same religions. Life is complex. If there's a message for grandparents, it's the diversity of what this country looks like now. It's not like it used to be. We have to adapt to new relationships and new kinds of relationships. Families used to live all across the street from each other. Some of the times the grandchildren don't even speak your language. How do you manage that? It requires some thoughtful discussions and thinking through what relationships they want to have.
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