Helping families where kids have gone wild has become hit television as shows like Supernanny and Nanny911 continue to gain audiences around the world. But if you have grandkids who seem out of control, it doesn’t come across as entertaining at all. How can you help your stressed-out family? Here are three key points to keep in mind.
Connect to the positive
A stressed out family situation can begin to feel like everyone lives in his or her own bunkers and comes out only for battle. One of the goals that the nanny shows have is to help make families make a “fresh start.” As a grandparent and not the day-to-day disciplinarian, you too bring your own “fresh start” to the situation.
One of the biggest gifts you can give is your unconditional love and delight in your grandchildren. If you haven’t been the person who’s had to nag a pre-teen each morning to clean her room, you can simply admire her taste in decorating and the fact that she keeps one corner of it clean enough to stand in.
The same holds true for your grown child. Be sure to mention all the positive things you see him or her doing with and for your grandchildren. Bolstering their confidence will only give them energy to put back into their own parenting. And if you can take the kids for a day or two — or even an afternoon — to give a stressed-out couple a break, that can help them regroup and reconnect to their own parenting goals.
Routine and ritual can be touchstones for children, helping them to organize their behaviour and also giving them a sense of security. If possible, call or visit with your grandchildren at about the same time each week — and if you can make it a family event, like a Sunday brunch, so much the better. But even if that option’s not available you can create some structure:
• When you visit with your grandchildren try starting your visit in the same way each time — with a silly greeting or a secret handshake.
• Share a treat or a joke each time — I still can’t look at a pack of Necco wafers without being reminded of my grandmother.
• If your grandkids come to your home, have a book or a toy set out for them in the same spot each time.
• Have a special wish or blessing before you go — something like the Irish “May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light. / May good luck pursue you each morning and night.” Or something as simple as “See you later alligator / in a while crocodile.”
• Leave a note behind or in a child’s coat pocket each visit.
Don’t accept poor behaviour
As a grandparent, your role as a disciplinarian may be complicated — particularly if your child doesn’t want you to discipline your grandchild, or if you and your child have very different views on what the “rules” should be. Some grandparents also prefer not to discipline at all — at least not until there is an issue. But children thrive with clear limits, and if you want your time together to be enjoyable you will almost inevitably end up having to set a few rules — and having to enforce them.
One lesson the television shows teach us in their “quick-fix” solution to disciplining children is that children of almost all ages are able to change their behaviour according to different adults’ expectations. That’s one of the secrets to nannies’ successes — by coming in fresh, they are able to set new ground rules without the history of previous arguments, or failed attempts at consistency.
Similarly, as a grandparent you may be able to set up “grandparent rules” and enforce them where your grandchild might fight their parents about the same issue. Some tips for creating grandparent rules:
• Keep it simple: you have already raised your children. Keep the rules to what makes a visit safe and pleasant.
• Don’t punish your grandchildren unless you have checked in with their parents first. It is one thing to correct a behaviour (“at grandma’s house we don’t jump on the bed”) and something else to try to enforce a penalty (“if you don’t get down you’ll be grounded.”)
• Express the rules of the house clearly without pointing fingers. (“At our house we don’t shout at the dinner table.” “When you’re walking with Grandpa you must stop at each corner.”) Enforce these consistently each time you visit.
• Do not comment about the rules (or lack thereof) at your grandchildren’s home, their friends’ homes, or any other homes. A simple “that’s fine, but these are our rules here,” should do.
• Remember that the root of discipline is “to teach.” As a grandparent you are teaching your grandchildren how to interact with you respectfully and safely. Let their parents worry about the rest.
Grandparents play a very important and special role in their grandchildren’s lives. However you define yours, just being there is a gift in itself.