Grandparenting and discipline: Tips and advice on knowing when it's OK to discipline your misbehaving grandkids

May 4, 2012, 6 a.m.

Becoming a grandparent is one of the great joys in life, and most grandparents like to be involved in their grandchild's life. Depending on your family, the roles of a grandparent can vary greatly. Some grandparents spend a great deal of time caring for their grandchildren, and may even have custody of their grandchildren while others have limited access.

In most cases, when a child's parent is present there is no need to discipline your grandchildren. In fact, in these cases it is usually inappropriate to do so. But when a grandparent steps into the role as a caregiver, whether on a short term or longer basis, discipline becomes an important part of the equation. With the exception of cases where grandparents are legal guardians, when to discipline grandkids is something that needs to be discussed with parent before grandkids are dropped off.

There are many forms of discipline, and some are more appropriate for grandparents to use than others. Many believe that the roles of a grandparent should not include discipline at all, but without at least some ability to hold grandkids responsible there is the danger of grandparents being taken advantage of, or of children getting hurt. Discipline can involve immediate punishment, such as spanking; it can mean losing access to something important to the child, such as a toy; or it can involve asking the child to do something to make up for what they did.

None of these options is very fun for the grandparent or the grandchild. Many believe you should never have to discipline your grandchildren, but when you do it should be with the full support of the child's parents whenever possible. A notable exception would be to discipline in order to keep a child out of danger, such as making them stay inside when he repeatedly runs toward the street. But in most cases, when to discipline grandkids is something that is dictated by the parents.

One of the most important components of discipline is consistency. It is through consistency that a child learns what they can and can't get away with. Grandparents may have a very different idea of what is appropriate and what isn't. Some parents may say that the roles of a grandparent should not include discipline and ask that transgressions simply be listed for the parents to handle later. When there are no immediate safety issues, this should be respected even if grandparents disagree. Adult children can be very sensitive when it comes to their parents "telling them how to raise their child," even when this is not the intention. Proper communication can keep good intentions from being misconstrued.

Of course, just because adult children may be sensitive doesn't mean grandparents show offer themselves as sacrificial doormats when it comes to their grandchildren. The saying, "my house, my rules," is very appropriate and you may find that when you are defending yourself, the desire to discipline your grandchildren increases. For example, if your grandchild breaks something the parent may offer to pay for it, but you can make it clear ahead of time that you expect your grandchild to earn the money needed to repair or replace the item. Knowing that your grandkids are being disciplined, either by you or their parent goes a long way in easing a grandparent's mind as well as their relationship with their own children.

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