Yes, parents are grateful that grandparents jump in to help with their kids when they’re at work or want a date night or vacation. Sometimes it can mean a sacrifice for the grandparents, causing them to miss their own social engagements, work obligations or doctors appointments -- and they're offering their services for free. But that doesn’t mean that conflicts don't sometimes arise.
Newsday asked experts for advice on how to resolve common scenarios.
STICKING POINT Too many sweets
EXPERT ADVICE Realize that the people closest to you can often be the hardest to convince when it comes to dietary restrictions, says Madeleine Berg, a registered dietitian in private practice in Woodbury and author of “OMG! You Think I’m Fat!?! How to talk (or NOT talk) about your child’s weight.” “They’re putting up resistance — they feel what you’re doing is too radical or excessive,” Berg says. Try to cut them a little slack if you’re angry. “Pointing out every transgression the grandparent did is not helpful, because they are on the defensive. Prioritize. Pick one thing to work on first,” Berg suggests. “Be clear about what you are asking and why it’s important.” Tell them it’s not a favor for you, it’s something for the good of the children.
STICKING POINT Sleep
EXPERT ADVICE Consider written instructions for infants. Rebecca Kammerer, a Mineola-based pediatric sleep coach, will recommend parents use this approach. “I have them fill out a daily SEA schedule,” says Kammerer, with SEA standing for sleep, eat, activity. This can help the grandparent plan a day around the child’s nap or bedtime schedule, she says. It gives everyone a common goal. With older kids, when possible, lighten up. If the grandparents are baby-sitting occasionally or on a weekend and let the kids stay up late, try to look the other way, Kammerer advises. “Let them build that real strong attachment [with the grandparents],” Kammerer says.
STICKING POINT Screen time
EXPERT ADVICE Provide the grandparents with a bag of alternate interactive activities, such as coloring books, card games, building blocks and Play Doh, so they don't have to rely on screens to keep kids quietly entertained, suggests Katie Duffy Schumacher of Rockville Centre, a social media specialist and author of "Don't Press Send." Ask the grandparents to put away their phones and iPads when they are baby-sitting so kids don't ask to use them (and put the kids' away, too), she says. Use electronics to your advantage: Enlist the internet to show grandparents the latest scientific guidelines on screen time. For instance, in April the World Health Organization said that infants shouldn't be exposed to electronic screens at all and that children between 2 and 4 shouldn't have more than one hour of screens each day. "It's just so easy because they're quiet and you don't notice that a half-hour becomes three hours very quickly," Schumacher says.
STICKING POINT Discipline
EXPERT ADVICE Have a conversation about the issue explaining your preferred techniques when the kids aren't there, says Rachel Lessard, a social worker in private practice in Smithtown whose own grandmother watches her two children, ages 18 months and 5 months, while she’s working. “It’s really unhealthy for a child to see one caregiver disrespect the other. It often sends really mixed signals to the child,” Lessard says. “When all caregivers provide a united front, it adds a level of security to the children involved.” The grandparents’ own grown child should lead a conversation about the issue, Lessard recommends. “If it’s your parent, you should be the one to speak. It’s often received better than the in-law having the conversation. The best-case scenario would be the couple as a unit being a united front.”
STICKING POINT Safety
EXPERT ADVICE Blame the doctor. There are safety issues that are clear-cut — such as the fact that secondhand smoke can be harmful or that a child can’t have a food that could cause them an allergic reaction. “It’s the parents’ job to protect their kids," Berg says. Telling grandparents that the pediatrician has recommended something bolsters your position and takes the onus off you, Lessard agrees.
SHOUT-OUT TO GRANDPARENTS
Before you broach a point of conflict, say this, the experts advise:
Thank the grandparents for their devotion to your children. Express all the ways that they really help you out, says Madeleine Berg, a registered dietitian in private practice in Woodbury. “Kindness goes a long way. Praise lavishly. Be appreciative. You’re trying to recruit the grandparents, not attack them. Remember, this person is on your side.”
Then, ask your parents to join your team. Make it a group effort instead of my way verses your way, says Rachel Lessard, a social worker in private practice in Smithtown. Acknowledge that it may not be the way they raised their children or a technique they agree with, but ask them to support the family plan. “If you say to your parents ‘it’s me versus you,’ it can make the situation worse, and it can cause a lot of family strife,” she says.
And remember that children are smart. “They learn very quickly what they can get away with, with who,” Lessard says. Just because they are bending the rules at Grandma’s, they know they won’t get away with the same thing with you at home.