Sunday 18 February 2018

Dear David Coleman: One of my granddaughters practically bullies her younger cousin

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David Coleman

David Coleman

Q: MY 10-year-old granddaughter visits us during the summer. Another five-year-old granddaughter lives near us and she adores her cousin. The 10-year-old is an only child and when she is here she practically bullies the little one. She speaks horribly to her, tries to blame her for everything and acts quite deviously, lying without batting an eye. Her parents are lovely people, but I feel her mum ignores it and tries to hide it from her dad. I don’t quite know how to get her to be nicer to her cousin. Any advice would be appreciated.

A: It is always difficult, as a grandparent, to know when and how to intervene in the lives of your grandchildren.

Of course, if you appear to be too critical of their parents, in your description to them of the misbehaviour you might see, you risk alienating yourself from them.

I have met some grandparents, in my clinical practice, who have felt entirely shut out by their own adult children or children-in-law, because of some perceived slight against either the adult child or the grandchild.

Perhaps this fear lies behind your reluctance to intervene with your older granddaughter. I think, however, that you have both a right and responsibility to intervene if the misbehaving, which does appear bullying in nature, is happening in your home.

You seem to feel like the dad would be likely to intervene himself, if he was aware of how she was acting, and so this might be the first place to start. Perhaps you need to speak with him directly.

I am not sure if he is your son or your son-in-law, but either way, he needs to hear about his daughter's behaviour. However, much and all as he may need to hear things directly, I think you also need to include your granddaughter's mum.

If you discuss things 'behind her back', as she may perceive, she is likely to feel undermined, threatened and resentful. So, to avoid this, include her from the outset.

I think you need to be really clear about the behaviours that you have witnessed, that you are concerned about. If you explain to them both, that it is what she has done that is the problem, and not she herself, they may be able to hear it better.

Once they know about the things she does to her little cousin, then it is up to them to decide how to correct their daughter. They must have the opportunity to talk to her and to show her the kinds of positive behaviour that they expect from her.

If talking with her parent(s) is the route you choose, then this is the extent to which you can influence her and her behaviour, as you will have accepted and demonstrated that you believe that disciplining her is their job, not yours.

Another route to take, however, is to decide that if the children are in your house then it is up to you to determine the expectations of behaviour that must apply.

So, if you see your older granddaughter talking meanly or rudely to her little cousin then perhaps you might choose to intervene yourself. There is no need to start punishing her. Your role is to be like a coach or a guide for her.

You can take advantage of the position that grandparents have, of being just that bit removed from a parenting role, to use the quality of your relationship with her as your method of influencing her positively.

So, describe the behaviour that is a problem (for example, saying something mean) then tell her that you don't accept that kind of behaviour in your house. Explain to her how you'd like her to treat, or talk to, her little cousin. Be very clear that you expect her to act in these positive ways in the future.

You will probably find that repeated interruption of, and correction of, any misbehaviour will raise her awareness that these kinds of words or actions are just not acceptable to you. Because you are her granny (and are probably lovely to her!) she will, hopefully, be strongly motivated to please you, rather than appear to disappoint you, by acting nicer the next time.

Because you are not trying to punish her, or undermine any parental discipline, it shouldn't ruffle too many parental feathers either.

My 10-year-old granddaughter visits us during the summer. Another five-year-old granddaughter lives near us and she adores her cousin. The 10-year-old is an only child and when she is here she practically bullies the little one. She speaks horribly to her, tries to blame her for everything and acts quite deviously, lying without batting an eye. Her parents are lovely people, but I feel her mum ignores it and tries to hide it from her dad. I don't quite know how to get her to be nicer to her cousin. Any advice would be appreciated.

 

If you have any parenting queries for David Coleman, please email dcoleman@independent.ie. Please note that David cannot enter into individual correspondence

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