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Cathy Kelly advises: Grandchildren and rules

Q I’m very much a believer that when the children are in our house, they go by our rules. That means that, within reason, they eat what they’re given, go to bed when they're told, and they don’t generally go around calling the shots.

All of our grandchildren are aged between four and nine, so they’re still learning manners, and I think it’s vital that someone teaches them the right way to behave. I can’t abide children moaning for no other reason than they’re not getting their way. That’s the way it is with the two youngest at the moment. They have my son and his wife eating out of their hands. I see them negotiating with the children to coax them into eating certain foods or sleeping in their own beds. My wife constantly has to urge me to bite my tongue and not intervene.

When the kids stay with us, they go by my rules. If they won’t eat a decent dinner then they go without. I also believe in letting them cry themselves to sleep if necessary. My son disagrees with this, and we’ve had a lot of arguments about it. He says we should respect he and his wife’s way of child-rearing, as new rules “just confuse the children”. Now my son and I aren’t talking, and my wife says it’s up to me to put it straight, but I don’t know how I should go about it. George

A You probably feel as if everybody is against you when you were only doing your best. But I think that if things progress this way, you will have a huge family rift on your hands.

There are two issues: recognising that your son is entitled to set down rules about raising his children, and recognising that the ways of rearing children have changed enormously.

They are your son's children, and he and his wife are responsible for the basic rules. They may make mistakes, but all parents do.

If you decide it's your job to show him how hopeless a parent he is, you will lose him. You are basically saying that he knows nothing, but you know it all.

If, however, you say you find the children challenging and want to know how to deal with them, then you have a hope of making it up with him.

Your recollection of your children when they were small is that they ate what they were given and went to bed when told. Your wife, who probably spent more time with them, undoubtedly has different recollections.

Thirty years ago, child-rearing was more regimented. Times have changed. The old way was to believe that any crying was a tantrum. But children rarely cry at night over tantrums. They cry because they are scared of the dark or frightened.

Controlled crying (leaving the child to cry) is controversial and has been discredited by many childcare experts. Penelope Leech explains it marvellously. You are sticking with an idea that was believed 40 years ago, but belief systems change. If your son and his wife do not believe in leaving their little ones to cry, they'll be horrified that you do. And angry that you do not respect their rules.

Yes, in your home you are entitled to have certain rules about politeness and behaviour. Children need boundaries. If they are swinging out of the curtains and screeching at you, then I would calmly tell them they can't. Then ask their parents what they do about bad behaviour. If the small ones are very naughty and don't know the word 'no', school will gently fix that. They will improve, trust me. It is not your job to sort this out.

In the meantime, you want to keep your family together. Apologise to your son and say you'd like to know what he and your daughter-in-law do when the kids won't eat or behave badly.

I bet they find this a nightmare too.

Suddenly, you will all be trying to gently sort this problem out together. The four adults can agree on the rules in your house. You could agree to make your house a place where there are no crisps and sweets. Don't let the children cry themselves to sleep. They are small children looking for comfort: it's not a manipulative game.

Respect your son and daughter-in-law's views and they'll respect yours. Remember, NOBODY is a perfect parent. You probably weren't either. Times change, but family should be forever. Good luck, Cathy.

What the readers say

When I was a child we ate when we were told to eat, and we finished our plates whether we liked it or not. We went to bed when we were told, even if we weren’t tired, and whining about it got us nowhere. Your son and his wife are probably too soft on their kids, so you’re right to take matters into your own hands when the grandchildren stay at yours. Hopefully they’ll start being more respectful to their parents as a result of it, and your son will realise that you’re doing him a favour.

Donal, Co Offaly

It’s fair enough if the kids have to follow certain rules around your house, but I think you’re taking them too far. Your son and daughter-in-law aren’t bad parents - they’re simply trying to cope with four young children. They need your support, but not to be told how to raise their kids. Don’t let this turn into a family divide that deprives the children of contact with their grandparents - sort things out before it’s too late.

Grainne, Co Dublin

If your son is happy to use you as a babysitting service, then I’m afraid he has to accept your rules. Simple.

Christopher, Co Limerick

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