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What Can You Do or Say When Your Family or Relatives Discipline Your Children?

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Marissa is the writer of ThePracticalMommy and the blog Mommy Knows What's Best. She is a stay-at-home mom to four and was a teacher.

Disciplining Children

When a parent becomes a grandparent or a sister/brother becomes an aunt or uncle, a whole new world opens up to them. There is now a second generation to look after and care for. If the family is close, it may be second nature to want to step up and help a parent with his or her children.

Often times, a relative may overstep his/her boundaries when it comes to disciplining your child. He/she may think they are in the right when in reality they may be doing more harm than good. Here are some tips of how to handle relatives if they discipline your child:

Children and Discipline

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Disciplining Your Children

Sometimes, older generations just think they're helping!

Sometimes, older generations just think they're helping!

Parenting and Discipline: Tips for Talking to Your Relatives about Disciplining Your Child

1. Explain to your relative what you expect from your child in your home. Perhaps the relative doesn’t know that your child is permitted to make a fort with the couch cushions in your home or that he/she is permitted to run around in the living room. Make sure to let your relatives know what is acceptable and unacceptable in your home. That way, if they see something that would be unacceptable in their standards, they’d be more likely to let it go since you said it was okay.

Parents and Discipline : Talking in Front of Children

It would be wise to do some of these things while the child is not present. If a child hears you speaking with or even reprimanding another adult, he/she may lose respect for that adult and may act out even more in the adult's presence, thinking that you will always come to stop that adult from even giving a time out if the child misbehaves.

I know this happens; it unfortunately happened to me as a teacher. A parent would come in yelling and screaming because I simply told their child that they could not talk in class, even though it was a school policy. After that, the child would act out even more, thinking that he/she could get away with anything, which wasn't true.

Here's the thing: there will be times when another adult has to discipline your child. Your child needs to still have respect for other adults who may need to step in when you are not around. The matter here is to make sure that the other adult remains in his/her boundaries when you are present and that they use the proper measures to deal with misbehavior when you are not present.

2. Establish boundaries. If a relative begins to discipline your child in your presence, immediately and calmly let them know that you can handle the situation. Take care of the discipline, and when the child isn’t present, explain to the relative that you appreciate his/her help but when the parent is present, the parent will be the one to take care of the situation.

3. Don’t make excuses for your child. If your child misbehaves in front of company, be consistent and give the discipline at that moment. It’s tempting to say things like “Kids will be kids” or “He’s just really excited that you’re here.” Don’t wait until things get out of hand and your company is disturbed before you step in.

If your child misbehaves when with a relative and the relative notifies you of such misbehavior, be sure to address it again with your child. Your child needs to know that even when you are not present, rules still need to be followed.

Sample bookmark sticker chart for when your child is with a relative.

Sample bookmark sticker chart for when your child is with a relative.

Out and About Sticker Chart

When my son would go to my mom's house while I was at work, I gave her a sticker bookmark chart to use for his positive incentives. It was basically a travel sticker chart that fit in the diaper bag. If he filled up the bookmark, he earned a special treat like extra playtime when he got home.

4. Explain your discipline tactics with the relative. When doing this, it is important for you to point out to the relative that you would like them to follow your measures so that the discipline is consistent for the child. Let the relative know what you do: timeouts, loss of privileges, counting down from three, etc. Explain that these measures will be given by the parent if the parent is present, but if the parent is not present, the measures need to be implemented immediately so that the lesson is learned.

Also be sure to explain some positive measures the relative could use with your child. If you utilize a sticker chart to reinforce good behavior, explain the process to the relative. If you provide other incentives like an extra book at bedtime or an extra hour to play outside, explain that as well.

5. Be firm about what you find unacceptable as discipline. If you find that your relative has taken to shaking or hitting your child and you do not approve, make sure to let them know about it. Give them the reasons why you find these types of discipline unacceptable. Explain that while you know they love your child and want to help, each time they use physical discipline with your child they run the risk of injuring the child. It might also be necessary to explain that such discipline measures used in public might get reported to authorities.

Want to Be a More Patient Parent?

6. Be clear that if the relative does not respect your wishes in terms of discipline, your child will not be permitted to be alone with the relative. While I know this may be hard to do, as in situations when the parents rely on relatives for child care, it needs to be done for the safety and well-being of your child, especially if the relative’s discipline involves shaking or hitting. You may have to find alternate means of care giving until the matter is resolved.

Disciplining Your Child: What He/She Should Know When with a Relative or Family Member

Your child should be made aware of how to exhibit good behavior when alone with another relative or family member. If Grandma doesn't permit running in her house, remind your child before he/she goes to Grandma's house. If your child will be going to a store or restaurant with another relative, remind him/her of the rules to follow: stay near the relative (i.e. no running around disturbing other customers), listen the first time to the relative, use polite manners (please and thank you) and other such rules.

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Remind your child that of he/she does not follow the rules when with the other relative, privileges will be lost or other sorts of discipline will be happening at home as well. Your child needs to know that he/she is still expected to have good behavior, even if you are not around.

Disciplining Your Children

Establishing boundaries with any relatives or family members who are in direct contact with your child helps them to understand their role in your child's life. They can love and spend time with your child all they like, but it's important that they respect you as a parent and your wishes when it comes to discipline.

© 2012 Marissa


Marissa (author) from United States on May 18, 2012:

shea duane, mother-in-laws can be tough, no doubt, but to have a piano teacher discipline your child? Wow! Perhaps you should talk with her about boundaries.

Thank you for reading and commenting! :)

Marissa (author) from United States on May 18, 2012:

PHILLYDREAMER, I'm glad the hub gave you some helpful tips of how to speak to your parents if they crossed any boundaries. Thanks for reading!

Marissa (author) from United States on May 18, 2012:

Thanks, Tammy!

shea duane from new jersey on May 16, 2012:

This was a huge problem with my mother-in-law who would criticize me if I said, "I'll handle it." But now, my son's piano teacher will step in and I don't like it. She'll say, 'That's rude," when he is clearly not being rude. She doesn't have children yet so she is clueless. But she talks over me if I say, that's OK. She sould read this hub! 8-)

Jose Velasquez from Lodi, New Jersey on May 16, 2012:

Great advice. I would normally allow my parents to handle discipline as they see fit, but it's helpful to know how to handle if I felt they crossed a line.

Tammy from North Carolina on May 16, 2012:

Great hub. This is a very sensitive issue! Well done!

Marissa (author) from United States on May 02, 2012:

tillsontitan, thank you very much for your comment! I love that you as a grandparent understand boundaries and bend only unimportant rules, like the lollipop rule (my mom breaks that one a

I appreciate your perspective, understanding that even though there are times you'll disagree with the parents' rules, they're still the rules parents are using to teach and form the children. :)

Mary Craig from New York on May 02, 2012:

I read your hub and all the comments with great interest. As a grandmother I feel I need to follow special rules. I have to remind myself these are my 'grand' children, not my children and whether I agree or not I need to follow their parents rules.

I get to bend the unimportant rules, like a lollipop AFTER dinner or letting them watch that DVD for the fifth time while everyone else is moaning about watching the chipmunks, again.

There are ways to spoil grandchildren without interfering in their parents efforts to teach them and form them. I think this was a great hub for all to read. Voted up, useful and interesting.

Marissa (author) from United States on April 22, 2012:

Brainy Bunny, my parents are the same way with my kids: they let the grandkids get away with more than I would, but I guess that's how grandparents are, right?

I agree: touching someone else's child as a form of discipline is not acceptable. That's why a parent's discipline measures need to be shared with others in care of the child so that hitting or slapping doesn't occur. I'm glad to see you shared your methods with your family and that they respected your parenting.

Thank you very much for reading and commenting!

Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on April 21, 2012:

I've generally been happy when other people have stepped in to discipline my children (generally with gentle reminders), but of course touching someone else's child is always 100% unacceptable. When my kids were babies, I did discuss discipline and consequences with my folks an in-laws, and in general we were on the same page, although they usually let some behavior slide that I would have had an issue with.

Marissa (author) from United States on April 20, 2012:

Cow Flipper, thank you for sharing your experience. It must have been scary for you to watch your youngest children going near that road! I would have yelled too. When it comes to the safety and lives of our kids, sometimes we have to yell, at least just to get their attention!

Boundaries are ever so important, especially when it comes to disciplining other people's children. I like how you pointed out though how some parents might have (or do have) a lack of boundaries with their kids, which might cause some problems for you and your kids. I had that problem: during a shopping trip, a cousin of my son's was allowed at the age of 2 to roam freely on a sidewalk next to a busy parking lot while my son needed to stay in his stroller. I nearly had several heart attacks that day as that child roamed way too close to the curb as cars zoomed by. I had to just bite my tongue and let it go because apparently the child's mother had no qualms about it (plus I knew I would be told about it if I did say something...).

I really appreciate that you teach your children to respect all adults. That seems to be a lesson that goes by the wayside these days.

Thank you so much for reading and for commenting!

Sean Jankowski from Southern Oregon on April 19, 2012:

Great advice, I have two baby girls and I was recently scolded by a relative after I went overboard yelling at my son and two of my nephews for leading my 2 and 4 year old out towards a rural road with a very high speed limit.

I was yelling at them in panic and I came across to angry and loud and I guess I scared the boys who are all in their young teens. At that point my sister in law screamed across the property "ENOUGH!" and she was speaking to me.

Things snowballed from there as my wife suddenly roared to life like a mother lioness and grabbed our girls and my son and loaded them into our KIA Sedona. She then went to the house and told my sister in law and her husband what she thought about them. (Sigh), but I did learn a very valuable lesson, watch how you speak to others kids, you don't even have to be cussing because your tone will say more than words.

Like you said use the boundary idea to know your limits and if you think you can't handle their boundaries or even their lack of boundaries you can then make a choice as to if you want to deal with their kids or them for that matter.

I teach my children to respect all adults they know are in authority or are to be trusted.

Marissa (author) from United States on April 07, 2012:

algareview, you make a good point: establishing boundaries needs to happen right away, not after an incidence occurs. Thanks so much for reading and for your comment! :)

Joana e Bruno from Algarve, Portugal on April 07, 2012:

Hello, very interesting, I think this happens in every family, there is always one or more people that try to step up and "help". I think you are totally right about establishing boundaries, because if that is not done from start it will just get worse and worse. Vote up and useful! Thanks for SHARING. Have a great day!

Marissa (author) from United States on April 05, 2012:

teaches12345, thank you for your comment! I felt I had to add in my advice about discipline outside of a parent's control. I know as a teacher I had to be that person who had to train students to have proper behavior when parent's weren't available.

Thanks for reading and voting up! :)

Marissa (author) from United States on April 05, 2012:

randomcreative, thanks! I saw the question and I knew I had to answer it. Glad you loved my tips! :)

Marissa (author) from United States on April 05, 2012:

Dee aka Nonna, thank you very much for your kind words. I do try my best with my kids!

It's funny that even before I had my own children, I learned as a teacher never to argue with another adult in front of a child. Children certainly know how to play one adult against another!

Thanks for reading! :)

Marissa (author) from United States on April 05, 2012:

leann2800, it's so important that through all of this the kids still need to respect their elders. I like that you are pro-active with your family and other adults when it comes to your rules with your kids. Thank you very much for commenting!

Marissa (author) from United States on April 05, 2012:

moonlake, I'm glad you agree with the hub! Thank you for sharing your experience; I like how you said the mothers could give the real punishment. :)

Dianna Mendez on April 04, 2012:

Good advice to follow for those of us who deal with such touchy situations. Love your advice and reflection of disipline outside of your control. Voted up!

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 04, 2012:

Great topic for a hub! This is an issue that comes up in so many families. I love your tips.

Dee aka Nonna on April 04, 2012:

You have handled the discipline of children very well...each point is remarkable in strategy. Never once did you argue in front of the child, but even in the most substle of tactics children can pick up on things and play one side against the other.

I can see you as a really great mom with children who are happy and healthy. Great information.

leann2800 on April 04, 2012:

i gave other adults my rules and said they could verbally reinforce my rules only. i did not want contradictions to what I said but I did want my son to know he had to respect his elders.

moonlake from America on April 03, 2012:

I never wanted anyone to discipline my child unless they were taking care of them and than never to touch them.

I never touched my grandchildren. nieces or nephews I may have gotten after them about something when taking care of them but never would I touch them. If they started to run in the street they would hear it from me but their mothers could give the real punishment.

Enjoyed your hub.

kelleyward on April 03, 2012:

I love to see great questions answered with a great hub! Thanks for sharing ThePracticalMommy!

Marissa (author) from United States on April 03, 2012:

kelleyward, I saw that you had answered the same question too after I came back to publish the hub! Great minds think alike, right? :) I can agree with your point that it is the parent's primary responsibility to discipline a child, but sometimes some parents appreciate the help when it's needed as long as boundaries aren't crossed.

Thank you very much for stopping by to read and comment!

Marissa (author) from United States on April 03, 2012:

justateacher, I'm like you in that anyone could discipline my children, but it'd have to be by my set of discipline rules. Lucky for me, most if not all of my relatives know their boundaries and how to discipline my children in my way. It happens on a rare occasion, such as when I am taking care of the younger one and the older one needs to be addressed.

When I decided to answer the question with this hub, I definitely viewed it from both perspectives: the mama bear perspective and the it-takes-a-village-to-raise-a-child perspective. I knew that there'd be varied opinions about it, but it was fun to write anyway. :)

Thanks for reading!

kelleyward on April 03, 2012:

This is a great hub! I answered your question to this and then saw your hub and had to read it. I agree with justateacher that everyone is different but the parent afterall is the parent and the discipline and teaching is their primary responsibility. Voted up and shared!

LaDena Campbell from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz... on April 03, 2012:

practicalmommy - these are great tips! When my sister's children were young, she became a mama bear protecting her cubs if ANYONE besides her disciplined her children. I, on the other hand, felt that if my child was misbehaving anyone in the room could discipline her - as long as it was reasonable. Everyone has different feelings about this, and I like how you addressed this.

Voted up and SHARED!

Marissa (author) from United States on April 03, 2012:

Kathleen, thank you very much for your comment. I like how you phrased your last sentence: leave discipline to the parents so that their authority isn't undermined.

I appreciate that you agree with my tips! Thanks for reading.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on April 03, 2012:

This is an issue in most families. You've done us all a service with your tips. My husband is from a family that tends to interfere in the discipline of children other than their own. I remind him when the child's parent is in the room to leave it to the parent to handle so we don't undermine their authority.

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