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How do I handle a child who is playing favorites with relatives?

Dr. Heather Wittenberg, PhD
Psychology Specialist

In every family, there are differences in the way one set of relatives relates to the kids, versus the other set. Differing cultural traditions and values can play a role. Sometimes, one family has tons of grandkids (and therefore less time and money to spend) and the other side has few, so therefore more time and money. The general level of intensity of the relationships within the family often dictate things, too. For instance, my husband’s family is more involved in general in the lives of their friends and family. My family, on the other hand, is more "live and let live".  Neither is better, just different. Kids have to get used to the fact that everyone is different; and that’s OK.

Grandparents have the inalienable right to spoil their grandkids; nothing I can say will change that. But your children will learn over time, with your help, that you can’t "judge the book by its cover". Treats and presents are great, but they’re not everything.

The kids do have to learn that some things in life cannot be controlled; Grandma X gives cookies and candy, Grandma Y gives fruit and crackers. All you can do is talk to the kids gently (but frequently) about manners, being polite with everyone, and the fact that everyone is different. Perhaps the less-lenient grandparents have other attributes: Maybe they can teach the kids to fish, or go camping, or how to sew. The grandparents also have to come to terms with the fact that they will each have different standards with the kids.

You can talk to all the grandparents about your dilemma. Try to generate some empathy for the kids, for the other set of grandparents, and for you in the situation. Talk to the lenient grandparents about the bind they put you in. "I don’t want to deny you your right to spoil the grandkids. I don’t want to control your time with them. But when they come back home to rules and to be with us, they’re impossible, since they’ve had so many goodies. They even told us they don’t want to live with us anymore, or visit with the other grandparents. Can we talk about toning it down just a little bit?"

Also, talk with the other grandparents about your plans to address it. Show them you mean business when you insist that the kids are nice and polite. Really play up the cool things that your kids can do with these grandparents. Show your kids that their tantrums aren’t going to get them anywhere; they still need to have a cordial relationship with all family members.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.