Children who are “allowed” to sass, hit, disrespect the adult, do not feel good about it and end up not feeling good about themselves.
LB, TX, writes: My husband and I do not agree about how to discipline our grandson, age 8, when he spends the weekends, while our daughter, a single parent, is working. My husband thinks our grandson should be punished and sent to his room, which we keep for him, when he doesn’t obey us when we ask him to pick up after himself or get ready for bed, or when he sasses me.
As you undoubtedly know, it is normal for adults to have different expectations, different temperaments, different tolerances, and different limits to what they will allow from children. Somehow, because of our differences, children can put a strain on the adults’ relationships and, as a result, bring out conflicts. (When I look back at my childhood, we wouldn’t dream of disobeying or sassing the adults, so times seem to be very different now.)
The key may be to talk with your husband when you two are alone to express the frustrations you both are having and to make a plan for what steps you both feel comfortable to take. I am an advocate for the child to be able to develop a relationship with each of the adults in their lives, even if it means stepping aside and letting the child express feelings toward their encounters. It may take a while!
I often suggest that when one adult is handling a situation, the other stay out of it and, if necessary, talk about it later. Tasks could be decided in advance (i.e., grandma will handle dinner table issues; grandpa will handle chores, etc.). However, if a child sasses you, you should be the one to set the limit, tell him that is not acceptable, and decide what needs to be done if he doesn’t stop. Explaining the limits is important; not doing for the child if he isn’t doing his part and otherwise experiences the consequences of actions (i.e., guess we can’t make cookies today, etc.).
Time outs can work, if done firmly but not with anger: “You can come out when you feel ready to finish the job,” or “…when you are calm enough to join us for dinner, the game, etc.”. With younger children: getting down on their level, redirecting, helping them with words to describe their feelings , is advisable.
As to prevention: Keeping 8-year-olds busy, challenged, interested in an activity is key to keeping them out of trouble. They love the outdoors, but if that isn’t possible, there are activities that can be supplied (see www.about.com/grandparents )
Picking up after himself: I found that my daughter and I enjoyed picking up together, at least some of the time, and she is now grown, with children of her own and an excellent “picker upper.”
Chores/sassing: I have a strong memory, at age 8, of my grandmother, with whom I was living, who asked me to dry and put away the dishes after each meal. I remember refusing—and then WISHING she would follow up and make sure that I did my chore! It may sound crazy, but I think that children who are “allowed” to sass, hit, disrespect the adult, do not feel good about it and end up not feeling good about themselves.
Your daughter may have suggestions for activities, but I would work out any behavior issues without complaining to your daughter if at all possible. Adult children are often sensitive and hear any issue as a criticism of them if it comes from their parent. It also puts them into a difficult situation as they weren’t present. “Wait til your father/mother/etc. gets home” adds to resentments.
Eight-year-olds can be a challenge—I’ve heard it said that 4 is the first “adolescence,” and 8 is the next—where one’s life is changing to the next stage, both physically and emotionally (think of the many aspects of a child’s life as pieces of a puzzle being tossed up into the air, to come down in a different configuration). If you are both at home weekends, think of the time as an opportunity to make a difference in the child’s life—time to talk, take walks, enjoy shows or movies together, without the rush of deadlines and places to be.
If your grandchild sees you as supportive and open, he may be able talk about his behavior and his feelings. Maybe he is always feeling rushed at home—parents are often under pressure to get things done, get somewhere on time, etc., and may not have time to sit and listen.
Suggestions: 1. Agree to talk about situations that have come up at a time when your grandchild isn’t there, and acknowledge the differences—they are what made you the people you are today;
2. Admit your own biases (i.e., I was raised strictly from age 10-18 and wasn’t allowed much in the way of after-school friends and activities, nor was I equipped to articulate my feelings, so I overcompensated with my own children and allowed them too much freedom at times–so I think I overcompensated with my own children);
3. Respect the other person’s view—we can learn from each other;
4. Come to some agreement about what behavior you both will allow and what you will draw the line on. We can’t always control others’ behavior, but we can be united on what we expect. If you are both with your grandson throughout the day, plan to take turns with stepping in when necessary.