How Can I Get My Kids To Respect Their Grandparents?

12/19/2011 04:19 pm ET

Dear Susan,

My parents often look after my kids after school until I get home. I'm very lucky to have their help, but my kids take advantage of their Nana and Papa and often talk back, or resist cooperating with what they ask them to do. My parents let them get away with a lot. What should I do?

Stuck In The Middle

Dear Stuck,

It's wonderful to have parents who will help out. But it isn't okay that your kids treat their grandparents -- or anyone -- with disrespect. It's unhealthy for children to get away with being rude, and certainly unpleasant for your parents to be on the receiving end. Here's my advice:

  • Synch everyone up with your expectations, but be flexible. Have a conversation with your parents and kids and clearly outline -- perhaps on paper -- your general expectations for everything from homework to bedtime when Nana and Papa are in charge. Discuss the fact that you expect them to cooperate with their grandparents and do what they're asking without making a big fuss, even if your parents might do things a little differently than you do.

  • Empower your parents. Make sure they know that they have your permission to be more assertive with your children. Sometimes grandparents are too soft on their grandkids because they adore them so much -- and want to be adored back. They can be softies when you're around, but in your absence, ask them to maintain a sense of authority. Kids do best when they know that someone in charge.

  • Be realistic. Grandparents have a special relationship with their grandchildren: They love to indulge, spoil, and let them get away with things their parents don't; that's part of the fun. Talk with your parents to help them figure out how to temporarily step into a more authoritative role with your children. It may require some of your help in how to word the requests they make of your kids.

Children do best when they are raised in a tribe, with healthy attachments to a number of caring adults. But it's important that you remind your parents that it's in their grandchildren's best interest to treat people well -- including close family. Let your kids know that while they can come to you with legitimate complaints, they need to treat their Nana and Papa with respect. Don't forget to thank your parents for stepping in. As your children observe you appreciating Nana and Papa, it will help them remember to do the same.

Yours in parenting support,

Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.