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Trust grandchildren to make the right choice

June 2009

“Do I have to come to Sunday night dinner? I have an important soccer game.” A fellow grandparent asked my advice on how to respond to her 13-year-old grandson’s question. As an educator and psychologist, I have reflected about and written on how to best handle these kinds of situations. As a grandfather, I can also reveal that one of my granddaughters just recently asked me, “Do I have to be at the Passover Seder? I have the annual Girl Guides party that night.” Fellow grandparents will have their own versions of this situation.

There are a number of factors to take into consideration: the feelings of the grandchild (and the grandparents), the issue of responsibility, and the role of the parents. In regard to all three of these factors, an open dialogue is crucial and the key component is mutual respect.

The acknowledgment of the child’s feelings is important. The child feels a conflict: He wants to be with his friends (particularly intense with preteens and teens) and would be sad and disappointed to miss out on the activity (soccer, girl guides), but also worries about hurting the grandparent’s feelings. Will the grandparent be sad or angry?

Assuming a close and loving relationship, the grandparent (particularly we adoring ones) will be tempted to tr y to please the grandchild. Feel free to talk about these feelings and do not hesitate to remind the child of the adult’s emotions. This is not to instill guilt, but it is always recommended to be as honest as possible about how one feels.

The final choice must remain with the child. This is also an excellent opportunity to talk about responsibility. Was there a prior commitment to come to the Sunday supper or the Passover Seder? Did the soccer game or girl guides event crop up later? Here an analogy can be used: You are invited out by a friend, and then later another friend (more attractive?) issues an invitation for the same time. The ethical thing to do is to keep the first commitment, and be as honest as possible with everyone concerned.

The third factor, no less important than the other two, is the need to consult the parents, and to get their view of the matter. If possible, one tries for a common position. If grandparent and parent do not agree, it will be more difficult. However, they can at least present the two points of view, and still leave the decision to the child.

Postscript: The grandmother who raised this question has reported that her grandson cheerfully chose to attend the Sunday dinner. My granddaughter told me, after a few days of reflection, that she was “happy to come to the Passover Seder.” Furthermore, she announced that she might raise the question of why Girl Guides had scheduled their party on the evening of an important Jewish Festival!

Dr.Schleifer (Ph.D. Psychology, McGill; B.Phil. Philosophy, Oxford) is a Professor of Education at UQAM. He is the author of Talking about Feelings and Values with Children and Mutual Respect with Teenagers.” Website: Submit questions on grandparenting to



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