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Publication #FCS2187

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: Guidance and Discipline1

Larry Forthun, Millie Ferrer-Chancy, and Angela Falcone2

Goal: To provide grandparents with information for guiding children's behavior.

Figure 1. 
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You have admirably accepted the role as the caregiver for your grandchildren. With this new role comes the responsibility of teaching your grandchildren appropriate behaviors—in other words, guiding your grandchildren's behavior.

All children will misbehave at times. There's a good chance your grandchildren will have temper tantrums, talk back to you, or act inappropriately. It is important to know how to effectively respond to misbehavior.

Parents basically have two techniques to use to change unacceptable behavior—punishment or discipline. The difference between punishment and discipline is often misunderstood. Punishing is the act of stopping the immediate behavior. Discipline is the act of teaching your child self-control and the consequences of her or his actions.


In the minds of many grandparents, punishment means spanking. However, spanking is only one type of punishment. Scolding, bullying, threatening, or anything else intended to stop misbehavior is also considered punishment. Punishment is a penalty used with children when their behavior is considered wrong. It gives them a sense of what not to do, but it does not teach them anything. It does not help children understand why their behavior is inappropriate and what appropriate behavior is. Note the following example scenarios.

House Rule: Be respectful to others by not hitting or name-calling.

Situation: Your eight-year-old grandson is playing with a friend. He is arguing with him and calling him names.

Response: In an angry tone of voice, you yell at him to stop fighting.

Your purpose: By doing this you attempt to stop the behavior.

  • Outcome #1: Your grandchild continues to misbehave. You scream louder at him and spank him to stop his misbehavior.

  • Outcome #2: Your grandchild temporarily stops the misbehavior yet feels humiliated by your actions.

Unfortunately, he is likely to misbehave again because he didn't learn anything. Your grandchild is unaware of the effects of his behavior toward the other child.

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Discipline can be seen as a positive way of guiding grandchildren's behavior. It teaches them to act responsibly even when grandparents aren't around. Grandparents who are consistently warm and loving and who explain reasons for rules are more likely to see positive results. Grandchildren need reasonable limits, and they need to know what will happen if they overstep their boundaries. Let's look at the same scenario handled from a guided-behavior approach.

House Rule: Be respectful to others by not hitting or name-calling.

Situation: Your eight-year-old grandson is playing with a friend. He is arguing with him and calling him names.

Response: In a calm tone of voice, you tell your grandchild that inappropriate words hurt others and his behavior is unacceptable. Stress how his behavior makes his friend feel. Tell him that if he continues this inappropriate behavior their playtime together will end.

Outcome #1: Your grandchild continues to misbehave. You decide to end the play session, thus keeping your word. Following through with consequences is an effective part of discipline.

Outcome #2: Your grandchild stops the inappropriate behavior. You praise him for treating his friend with kindness and respect.

Positive Ways for Guiding Children's Behavior

You can use alternatives to punishment when raising your grandchild. All parents struggle to find the best form of discipline. It does not matter what age children are, they tend to cooperate better when they know what is required of them. Having clear rules and consequences tends to reduce power struggles. Children need to know that there is an adult in charge guiding them and keeping them safe.


Rules are guidelines set up to help children learn appropriate behaviors and keep them safe. They are clear, firm statements about the behavior you expect from your grandchild. It's important to understand that too many rules can confuse, frustrate, or overwhelm children. On the other hand, having too few rules can make children feel uncared for, lost, out of control, or unaware of what appropriate behavior is.


Grandparents can use two kinds of consequences to teach grandchildren to make responsible decisions. One is called a natural consequence, and the other is a logical consequence:

  • Natural consequences are a direct result of certain behaviors. For example, a grandchild who does not want to eat dinner goes hungry. Whenever possible, use natural consequences. Natural consequences provide a way for children and teens to learn from their own experiences.

  • Logical consequences are those imposed as a result of behavior but logically related to the behavior. For example, dirty clothes not found in the hamper do not get washed. Therefore, the grandchild must wash his or her own clothes.

By using natural and logical consequences, you are not blaming or judging your grandchild. Instead, you are giving your grandchild an opportunity to recognize a mistake and change behavior.

Logical consequences differ from punishment in that logical consequences are directly related to what your grandchild has done. On the other hand, punishment may have no logical relationship to what your grandchild has done. For example, in spanking your grandchild for not putting clothes in the hamper, there is no direct relationship between the behavior and the spanking.

Guidelines for Setting Rules

  1. Include grandchildren in making rules and consequences whenever possible. Grandchildren are more likely to follow rules they help create.

  2. State rules impersonally. For example, state the rule as “Balls are for playing with outside,” instead of “You can’t play ball inside.”

  3. State rules positively. For example, “Friends can only come over when I am at home,” not “You can’t have friends over when I’m not here.”

  4. Have a plan of action if the rules are broken. When children know the consequences for breaking a rule, they learn to take responsibility for their own actions.

  5. Rules need to be appropriate to your grandchild’s age. Make sure that your grandchildren understand the rules and that they match their abilities and skills.

  6. Rules should be visibly displayed somewhere in the house (perhaps on the refrigerator). This can also be a family activity in which grandchildren write down rules/expectations as they arise.

Test Your Knowledge

In the following examples, read the situation and decide if each response is a natural consequence, logical consequence, or punishment.


1. Five-year-old Nelly uses her crayons to color the walls.

A. You tell her that crayons are used to color on paper not walls. You give her the materials needed to clean the wall.

This is _____________________

B. You spank her and leave her alone in the room while she cries.

This is _____________________

2. You tell your 12-year-old grandson, Robert, "It's going to get cold outside," but he leaves the house without a jacket.

A. You tell him, "I told you so," and ground him for a week because he did not listen to you.

This is _____________________

B. Your grandchild gets cold, and you don't say anything else to him about his decision to not take a jacket.

This is _____________________

3. Sixteen-year-old Angela stays out later than the agreed upon curfew.

A. You tell her that the next time she goes out, she has to come back an hour earlier because she was an hour late this time.

This is _____________________

B. You think to yourself that if she cannot respect the agreed upon time then she needs to suffer for her behavior. You tell her that she cannot be in the Drama Club with her friends anymore.

This is _____________________

When you use new discipline procedures, your grandchild's behavior may get worse before it gets better. Change comes slowly. With consistency and patience you can make the change. It is very important for you to stick to your plan. Don't give up!

Answers to Examples

1A. Logical

1B. Punishment

2A. Punishment

2B. Natural

3A. Logical

3B. Punishment

Other Resources

Parenting 24/7:


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Brooks, J. (2001). Parenting (3rd ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.

Ferrer, M. (1997). Guiding children's behavior. Childcare Centers Connections: National Network for Childcare Connection, 7, 2.

Ferrer, M. (1999). Success and the single parent: Positive parenting—Understanding children's behavior. FCS2142. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Ferrer, M., & McCrea, S. (2000). Let's talk about temper tantrums. FCS2153. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Fogarty, K., Ferrer, M., & McCrea, S. (2006). Couples considering a blended family. FCS2148. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Forehand, R., & Long, N. (2010). Parenting the strong-willed child (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Oesterreich, L. (2001). Ages & stages: 9–11 years. PM 1530i. Ames: Iowa State University Extension.

Turecki, S., & Tonner, L. (2000). The difficult child: Second revised edition. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Turner, P. J., & Welch, K. J. (2012). Parenting in contemporary society (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Williams, D. (2000). Grandparents raising our children's children. Moscow, ID: University of Idaho Cooperative Extension.



This document is FCS2187, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. First published: March 2002. Latest revision: July 2013. Please visit the EDIS website at


Larry Forthun, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; Millie Ferrer-Chancy, Ph.D., professor emeritus; Angela Falcone, former FYCS graduate student; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.