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by Brittney Schrick, Ph.D., CFLE - August 27, 2021
You've probably seen those cute signs that say "What happens at Granny's stays at
Granny's." The idea that it is a grandparent's job to spoil their grandchild is widely
accepted. But what happens if your ideas about raising your children and those of
their grandparents cause friction? Learning to set firm boundaries with your child's
grandparents can make things easier for everyone, including the kids.
Grandparents and other trusted, older adults offer immense value to growing families.
Spoiling grandkids may be the prerogative of grandparents, but a little too much ice
cream and staying up late aren’t the types of spoiling that can cause long-term issues
in the family.
Overindulgence can fall into three categories: soft structure (lack of rules), over-nurture
(doing jobs that belong to the child), and too much (giving more to the child than
they need or putting hardship on the family in some way).
One of the bigger points of conflict between parents and grandparents can be when
they disagree on discipline or rules. Kids need consistency in rules and guidance that makes sense to them and fits their
age. Sometimes, parents are more lenient than grandparents wish they would be, and
other times the opposite may be true.
It is important that age-appropriate structure be present for a child no matter who is taking care of them. Kids who don’t know what
the rules are from person to person or place to place are more likely to push boundaries
and have a harder time developing consistent behaviors. Non-negotiable rules need
to be present that prioritize the child’s safety and help them develop trust.
For babies and toddlers: Teaching the baby to trust that they will be taken care of and their needs will be met is the most important process. As they become mobile,
teaching them safety rules and what is ok and not ok to do as well as helping them learn cause and effect make
later learning easier. They do not understand punishment a this age, so consistent
routines, intervention to insure safety, and redirection are your best tools.
For older toddlers and preschoolers: Those non-negotiable rules can become more complex but still prioritize the child’s
safety. Using short phrases like “stop” and “wait,” teaching about sharing and politeness,
and allowing the child to practice saying “no” in a safe relationship are very important
It is dangerous to teach a child to always do what an adult says, so allowing them
to say “no” when they don’t want to do something, especially something related to
their own body or possessions, teaches them that their boundaries will be respected.
Preschoolers can handle more complex ideas, so introducing simple chores as well as offering brief explanation for why rules
exist help them to grow and learn. Basic respect for self, others, and property should
Older kids: Provide opportunities for practicing skills and more complex reasoning. Teach them rules and consistently enforce them. They can understand the reasons
behind rules assuming reasons exist, and they can learn to recognize safe and unsafe
situations if they are allowed to experience the world around them. When they break
a rule, offer logical consequences rather than an arbitrary punishment. If the consequence
makes sense to them, they are more likely to remember why it was used.
Teens: As brains develop, expectations of following rules and contributing to the family should increase. Continue teaching with reinforcement and consistency of rules. Set
clear rules about risk-taking behavior such as sex or substance use but remember to
expect some impulsive and inconsistent behavior from your teen as their brains develop.
One of the biggest, most well-meaning mistakes parents and grandparents make with
children (especially young children) is doing things for them that they can do for
themselves. Sometimes, this impulse happens because of the temperament of the adult.
It seems easier to do something for the child when they may make a mess or take longer
to complete the task, so the adult says, “I’ll do this.”
Instead, let kids do what they’re capable of doing. This builds confidence and life
One of the ways grandparents might overindulge or spoil grandkids is by giving them
too much stuff or otherwise putting hardship on the family through overstretching
resources like space, time, or money.
Parents should be willing to set boundaries with grandparents and other trusted grownups
when it comes to gifts or other things that could potentially cause a drain on resources.
For example, if you have a grandparent who insists on giving large gifts for birthdays
or other occasions, if you don’t have room in your home, it can cause stress and frustration
over time. Even though it’s a hard conversation to have, it is important to let the
grandparent know that you don’t have room for the gifts. If they insist on buying
them, ask them to keep them at their home instead. Any gifts that require long-term
maintenance or care such as pets or vehicles, or anything that requires a time commitment
or transportation like lessons or sports should not be given without discussion with
Most of the time, “spoiling” a child comes from a good heart. Parents and grandparents
and other trusted adults love their kids, so they do what they can to make them happy.
It is important to keep in mind a child’s development, their needs, what they can
do for themselves, and the resources and rules of a family, and sometimes that means
having a direct conversation and setting boundaries.
Communication about differences of opinion or conflicting ideas about how to raise
children are important and help build trust. When everyone stays focused on their
common goal, to raise healthy, happy children, everything can work out.
Jobs of the Child Handout: /life-skills-wellness/personal-family-well-being/family-life-fridays-blog/posts/images/handout-how%20much%20is%20too%20much-the%20jobs%20of%20the%20child.pdf
Just In Time Parenting newsletter: https://jitp.info/