When Parents and Grandparents Disagree


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While some family ways and traditions are passed down over many generations, there are often differences in parenting styles, expectations and techniques from one generation to the next. There are multiple — and sometimes complex — issues at play in the dynamics between grandparents, parents and children, including the grandparents’ shift in role from parent to grandparent, and the parents’ shift in role from son or daughter to parent advocating for his or her own child. How important is it that there is consistency across multiple settings? Do parents and grandparents need to have the same rules and expectations?

Different People, Different Settings, Different Rules

It is not uncommon for parents and grandparents to disagree on disciplinary topics such as setting limits and expectations of manners. Some parents say grandparents are too lenient and let too much slide, while others feel they are too strict, unforgiving and demanding of conformity. Does this matter?

A Sense of Safety

As a general rule, children in any setting, whether they are at home, at a relative’s house or at school, need to have a feeling of safety — not only in the sense of physical safety, but also that those who are caring for them have their best interests at heart. Does the child feel safe when she is in Grandma’s care, even though Grandma makes her say “please” and “thank you”? Can a child comfortably adapt to Grandpa raising his voice when play becomes too rambunctious, even though yelling is something the child’s parents wish to avoid? If the relationships your child has with relatives are ones in which he or she feels safe and cared for, differences in how behaviors are handled will likely not hinder your child’s development. In fact, the differences will enrich your child’s development as he or she learns how to engage in all of these various types of relationships.

Adaptability to Various Settings

As children mature, they adapt and modify their behavior depending on the setting they are in. Running and throwing balls are acceptable activities in the backyard or at the park, but not in the living room or kitchen.

When children begin school, they learn that expectations at school are different from those at home. Children rarely have to be told, for example, that they don’t have to raise their hand to talk at the dinner table. Considering the development of adaptability as an important task of childhood, setting different expectations at a grandparent’s house provides yet another opportunity for children to adapt to various environments.

Differences in Understanding a Child’s Needs

There are times when a parents need to advocate for children who are having difficulty in adapting to different settings. For example, a child may have emotional or biological sensitivities to specific foods or around certain routines and behaviors, and tactics used by grandparents may not be helpful in working through the emotional interferences. Tactics such as shaming or coercing may cause so much distress for the child, he or she could feel unsafe.

When a Child Has Difficulty Adapting

Some parents may find that their child is having trouble with adaptability, and instead of the child adapting to the setting, environmental modifications and adjustments are needed in order to ensure the child’s sense of safety and ability to be successful. When parents feel that they are  micromanaging the school and care environments in order to maintain stability for their child, a higher level of support and intervention may be needed. The guidance of a mental health professional may be helpful in determining the underlying causes of the difficulties.


The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families. Visit lucydanielscenter.org to learn more.

 

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