Question

Uncharacteristic Behavior After Visiting Grandparents

What do I do when my 6-year-old grandson returns home after a day or weekend with us and is uncharacteristically disrespectful and disobedient to his parents?

Response:

You have described a very typical situation. When my kids were little, I used to call it Grandparent Withdrawal Syndrome!

When grandkids visit grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa are usually able to be much more attentive to their grandchildren than parents are because grandparent homes tend to be quieter and less hectic than the homes of growing families.

Attention is a powerful reinforcer, so a few days with grandparents sets the child up to expect the same amount of attention at home. When mom or dad is not able to provide that, misbehavior often ensues.

I suggest that you first talk with his parents to make sure that you truly agree with one another about what is expected of your grandson in regard to being respectful and obedient.

Then, sit down with his parents and talk with him together about the behavior that is expected at your house and at his parents’ house.

When he returns home to his parents, he can begin to earn more time with you by showing respect for his parents and obeying them. He may have a chart that gets stars added to it for good behavior days or a jar that gets cotton balls added to it. Decide on a reasonable number of stars or cotton balls in order to earn time with Grandma and Grandpa. If he has a bad day, no stars or cotton balls should be taken away. He just won’t earn one for that day. If he has an exceptional day, he can get an extra star or cotton ball for the day.

By doing this, you are teaching him that there are consequences for poor behavior and rewards for good behavior. He is also learning that spending time with his grandparents is something of value and this teaches respect for grandparents.

You might also want to make sure that you and the receiving parent make a strong statement together to encourage good behavior as your grandson returns home.

When you drop him off, the two of you might want to stand together and say something like, “We are looking forward to your good behavior at home so you can spend time with Grandma and Grandpa again soon.”

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