10 Dos and don'ts for grandparents to ensure family harmony

BY Gill Hasson

14th May 2023 Life

10 Dos and don'ts for grandparents to ensure family harmony

Grandparenting looks a bit different to parenting, and you'll want to do it sensitively to be truly helpful. Use these top tips for this exciting stage of life

Being a grandparent can be a joy for you and your grandchildren and provide emotional and practical support for their parents. But it’s too easy to overstep the mark by, for example, giving unsolicited advice, taking sides or breaking the rules the parents have set for their children.

Here are our top ten do’s and don’t for being a grandparent to help ensure family harmony so that everyone—parents, children and grandparents—can enjoy being part of each other’s lives.

1. Don’t criticise or give unsolicited advice

Unless asked, don’t tell parents what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their children or how they could be doing it better.

Perhaps you think you know how to get your grandchild to eat, sleep, or potty train a better way. But however you did it, and whatever the expert’s advice was back in your day, may no longer be appropriate today.

Do your own research to be sure you're up to date with current practices, such as the fact that babies should be placed on their back to sleep from the very beginning for both day and night sleeps.

Do speak up though, if you have a real concern that you feel can’t or shouldn’t be ignored. Just be sure not to do it in front of the grandchildren.

2. Don’t undermine the parents

Grandparents feeding grandchild breakfast foodDon't feed your grandchildren food that their parents don't permit them to eat

Don’t for example, change nap time or bedtime. It may mess up your grandchild’s routine when they return home. Do check with the parents what your grandchildren can watch and how much screen time they are usually allowed. Don’t give them food or drink that the parents have told you that they don’t want their children to consume.

"As a grandparent, you're beholden to your grandchild's parent’s rules"

Keep in mind that your child is now the parent. As a grandparent, you're beholden to your grandchild's parent’s rules, so best to follow the way they do it.

Do ask if it’s ok for you to have some leeway with your grandchildren for special treats—to let them stay up a bit later when they visit, for example.

3. Don’t give in to tantrums and demands

Certainly, giving in to a flailing toddler might get them to calm down. But in most cases, so would ignoring that tantrum.

And if you often give in to their tantrums and demands, not only does it teach them that that will get them what they want, but you’re also making it harder for their parents to deal with them with their own ways at home.

Ask their parents how they respond to tantrums, as they may have an approach that works.

You may try to reason with a child, “Why don’t you calm down so we can talk?” However, like the rest of us, when a child has a meltdown it’s impossible to reason with them because their heightened emotions have hijacked the rationalising and reasoning part of their brain.

Try not to over react, make an effort to keep calm yourself and just wait out the tantrum.

4. Don’t get stuck in the middle

Grandad and teenagerListen to your grandchildren talk about their parents with empathy, but don't take sides

If your grandchildren complain to you about their parents—that they won’t buy them what they want or let them do something they want to do—avoid taking sides.

"Be very careful not to talk badly about the other parent"

Do respond with empathy. This means acknowledging the disappointment or frustration the child feels. And maybe explain the reasoning behind the parent’s rules.

Don’t ever side with one parent or the other. Be very careful not to talk badly about the other parent.

5. Don’t compete with other relatives

Don’t try giving bigger and better gifts or treats, outings and fun times. Do ask about and show genuine interest in your grandchild’s time with other relatives. It’s not a competition—it’s a family. Everyone has something different to contribute.

6. Don’t give inappropriate or over the top gifts for birthdays or Christmas

Most importantly, don’t give that special present that the parents may have been planning to give. Do check with the parents first what your grandchild might like or need based on their interests and abilities.

Be aware too, in your enthusiasm for giving gifts, treats and time commitments to your first grandchild, that you set a precedent and you may be expected to provide the same for future grandchildren.

7. Don’t post photos of your grandchild on social media

Grandmother posts photo of grandchild on social mediaObey your childrens' rules about posting photos of their kids on social media

Yes, you want your friends to see how adorable your grandchildren are. But their parents may not want to have photos or information about their children on social media for all to see. So if the parents have asked you not to, then don’t. Just don’t.

8. Trust your kids to parent their kids

Assume that they have the best intentions. Yes, they might make mistakes. So did you. And very often, you learnt from those mistakes and changed your approach.

9. Do work to make it work

Parents need their parents, grandparents need their children and grandchildren. These relationships can be enriching for all. Whether you live close or far away, do find ways to help everyone be a positive, supportive, enjoyable part of each other’s lives.

10. Don’t make your grandchildren your life

If you are asked to help out with, for example, dropping off or picking up your child from school, giving lifts and childcare, say yes when you can and are willing to and no if you are not able. Make sure you have limits.

"Make sure you have limits"

If you are asked to childmind on a longterm basis so the parents can work, be clear that if you are going on holiday or are unwell, they have someone else who can step in.

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