Tips for dishing out the right discipline for your grandkids

Holding grandmas hand
How can you guide your grandchildren the right way?

Discipline sure has changed.

In the 60s and 70s it was more ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ variety, with firm beliefs that children should be seen and not heard.

Fast forward to today and you will find many parents are more into ‘free range’ parenting and the wooden spoon is only used in the kitchen for its intended purpose.

So where does that leave the grandparent who is looking after their naughty grandkids? It’s important to set guidelines with all concerned. That is the parent, the child, and the grandparent.

Dympna Kennedy, a parent mentor and coach, said problems often arose when there were differences of opinion.

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“Parents may have a holistic approach to discipline and believe in engaging more with the child, this can be viewed by the grandparent as spoiling the child and the parent being perceived as weak,” Dympna Kennedy said.

“Grandparents however may see treats as a way of engaging children in a household where parents wish to eat only green and organic, again a conflict can arise due to different perspectives and expectations.”

Certain behaviours do need to be addressed but Kennedy said it should be responding and not reacting to the behaviour. “Our goal is to build connection and encourage longterm changes in behaviour even when we are not present. The risk is that if we react and punish, the child learns to fear us and they will learn to avoid punishment which is not the same as learning to do the right thing.”

Time Out

This is where you send a child to a safe area for a period of time. It’s not putting them in the corner with a dunces cap on, it’s about finding a certain space to reflect on things, in a positive way. Try a certain chair or stool, or even a spot on the carpet, but it is best to introduce the ‘spot’ before it’s needed, and tell them how long they’ll be in there if they do certain things. 

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Kennedy, however, prefers the Time In option. “The child does not have the capacity to think through the situation on their own however in the company of the ‘wiser’ adult they can talk about and reflect on what happened and how we might handle it better next time.”

But what if they are having a meltdown? This is where Kennedy explains they need us more. “They need that ‘wise’ adult to mirror calmness in the midst of turmoil as an example of how they too one day will be able to manage their emotions. It is important to acknowledge emotions first and only when the child has calmed can we talk logic.”

Explain away

Rather than just tell Billy he’s not allowed to touch, explain why. Tell him little tales about things you’ve seen, or heard that relate to what is going on. Not only does this help in the decision making process, there’s a fair chance you might distract them for a while too. Yelling generally doesn’t help, but it’s amazing what can happy if you talk softly, even if they are not listening to start with. Keep the chatter going and they’ll soon be wanting to hear what you are talking about.

Kennedy encourages you use plenty of eye contact, physical contact (hand on shoulder or holding a hand) and use sentences with a maximum of five words. “Say what you want to see rather than what you don’t want to see, such as we say, “Close the door gently” rather than “Don’t bang the door”. Repeat and check with the child, ask them (if verbal) to repeat what you said, (the child may need some support in remembering). When a child repeats the statement they then own it. We acknowledge their listening skills and their knowing of what is expected.”

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Distractions and play are often wonderful ways to make a kid forget what their tantrum is all about. It’s not ignoring them, it’s simply changing the subject, so to speak. Next time it looks like little Johnny is going to chuck a tanty, find something super fun and exciting to do yourself, and he might stop to wonder what he’s missing out on.

Kennedy also believes it is important to talk about feelings and emotions. “Being upset (emotion) because you didn’t get a chocolate biscuit is understandable, hitting mum (action) is not. If we don’t first recognise the emotion and only focus on the action (initially) we risk escalation of the emotional outburst. 

“It is important to acknowledge emotions, the lesson is in helping them manage their emotions. Children if on a regular basis find it is unsafe, uncomfortable or unwelcome to show an emotion will then withdraw and parents wonder why their teenager will not discuss problems with them. The problem at 3yrs old is just as big as the problem of a 13-year old or a 33-year old.


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Getting children involved in a process, such as helping to make lunch, might encourage them to be more of a participant at meal times, for example. It’s worth a try for fussy eaters, especially if they feel they’ve been able to make decisions along the way. 

Being involved, being heard, being valued builds trust, Kennedy said. “We are more co-operative when we feel we belong, we are valued, heard and there is trust. Children also like being given choices. Would you like the carrots or the peas? Allowing them the opportunity to serve themselves. Avoid labelling, “She’s such a fussy eater” will help create a fussy eater. I notice you are not eating anything which tells me you are not hungry right now.”


All kids need to learn to be accountable for their actions, but there are more ways than going to bed with a sore behind. Have they broken something? Make sure they help to fix it. Have they lost something? Give them some jobs so they could earn some money to replace it. Banning from favourite activities, if the punishment fits the crime, works well in most cases but you have to stand firm and not cave in. If they know you are a soft touch they’ll be on to you quick smart.

In this situation Kennedy reminds that the consequences needs to be age appropriate.

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“If we are just bigger and stronger, we will be our child’s first bully. If we are just kind, we can be perceived weak by the child who is seeking boundaries and guidance.”

“Why is it when we yell at your kids, take away privileges and put them in time out and nothing seems to change?

“It’s because we are spinning the endless cycle of action and reaction instead of stopping it. We are expecting our child to make the change and be the grown-up first.”

Do you often look after your grandkids? What works for you?