My husband has two lovely boys, age 8 and 9. Boys are staying over in in-laws' house to finish their school. Boys are coming over for weekends and I take them to school on Mondays. We are having issues with

  • following directions/listening
  • showing respect
  • asking politely
  • behavior
  • greetings
  • and ignoring.

I have step up House rules, so boys know how they need to behave. They have simple rules. For example "Say please", "thank you", "excuses me", "yes"/"no" "sir"/"ma'am". We want them to be polite, boys are smart, and I know they know these words.

Here is a problem, their grand mom (she is doing a great job ) lets them treat her as 'no one'. She serves them with everything. Last time I was picking them up, one of the boys asked for French toast

I want French toast

grandma does the toast - 5 minutes later

When my toast will be ready?

I step in and I explained that such behavior is not accepted and it is rude. And I told him how it need to be done

Grand mom, I would like a toast?


Grand mom can I please have a French toast?

And wait until it's finished.

Grandmother lets them do it everytime.

When adults are talking at the table, they cut in and interrupt, they talk back, they do not do what we asked for, or they ask why they have to do it, or "I don't want to do it". When we talk to them, and we explain why their behavior is unacceptable, the older one is making faces, he is laughing like he is ignoring. They treat us like peers, they do not say hello or goodbye. They do not say thank you, or if they can be excused from the table - we remind them everytime, but it is getting sick, for past seven months I am doing the same thing every weekend.

They do not want to clean their room (the share room and restroom ). For example, if one thing is left the excuse is - it's not mine it's mark and via versa. We are trying to teach them how to share, how to talk properly, how to be polite, show respect, explain why they need to listen. All this stuff is on the house rules.

When boys go back to gradmom's house, our progress goes backwards. She lets them get away with everything, then they are coming over to us and same issues all over again. I copied the house rules and gave it to mother-in-law. It is hanging in the kitchen, still boys are ignoring it.

They are not absent minded, they have A's and B's in school- one of them is in gifted program. I believe if they know how to pray before the dinner, they can learn how to behave and how to be polite. They know how to behave at my mother's house, by the time we get into the car, everything is getting back to "their" normal behavior.

We tried time out, the older one stands there and keeps asking "how much longer", or he is screaming so loud that I can't stand it. We tried taking toys away. The younger one is little different - he doesn't want to disappoint you. But when we put them together, it's crime after crime. It is just making me tired of the repeating the same thing, when I know that grandmother will do it her way.

Also, let me add that my husband and I do things with boys - color, puzzles, learning languages, gardening. We spend time together. But their behavior it's turning us off. Last weekend, we were invited to a birthday party and we did not go because boys could not behave. Last weekend, we got late to dinner because boys waited to do their things (clean their room, take shower, vacuum their room) for 4 hours. I told them why they have to do it, that they have 2 hours etc. still nothing...

Any suggestions or comments would help.

  • Welcome to Parenting.SE, Maggie. What sort of consequences do you and your husband impose when the boys break a rule or don't do a chore? What do your in-laws do (presuming that they do have some rules even if they're more lax than your house rules)?
    – Acire
    Feb 1, 2016 at 20:25
  • I would think the most important thing is to not just give your MIL a copy of the rules, but get all adults involved in their care agreeing on the rules. If you and your husband is the only one who feels their behavior is not acceptable (and that can be debated, to me I feel this is very strict), you will not have much luck. You might have to compromise on the rules, so that they are consistent.
    – Ida
    Feb 1, 2016 at 21:25
  • @Erica - when comes to manners, we always explain multiple times ( why it is important) and try to teach them. After a while, when they know, it, we stop and ask " what the proper way". If they miss behave and they are being rude and out of control - time out or we will take toys away for x days. But their behavior is constant repetition. At the grandmother house, teaching goes on the side. I know she want to be grandmother, but we all should be an example for them. Yelling at them is nonsense.
    – Maggie
    Feb 1, 2016 at 23:23
  • 2
    I want to comfort you it doesn't have to do with step children, it's with children in general.
    – Nachmen
    Feb 2, 2016 at 10:21
  • 1
    @Ida that is cultural, and even regional (when I moved from the North to the South, I was surprised to learn sir/ma'am was expected language of children towards adults), but likely is fairly standard among other families etc.
    – Acire
    Feb 2, 2016 at 11:10

2 Answers 2


Well, you have your house rules, and Grandma has her house rules, and they're not the same. You can't expect your boys to obey the rules of one house while they are in another.

Your big mistake is, you shouldn't be teaching the boys house rules at all. You should be teaching them life rules.

Eight and nine year old boys should not be polite to adults, exhibit table manners, complete their chores, etc. because it makes their parents happy. They should do those things because that is the best way to get along in the world. They should do those things because it makes them better persons. They should do those things because it is who they are -- polite, mannerly, responsible people.

Perhaps the most productive thing you should do is to articulate and explain to yourself just exactly why you need those boys to behave properly. (Hint: it's not to make your life easier.) Once you understand this yourself, you can begin to make the rules less about the relationship between the adults and the boys, and more about who the boys are even without the adults.

Your goal must be to get the boys to be good even when there's no one around to be good for except themselves. This is not going to be easy. If raising polite, mannerly, responsible children was easy, everyone would be doing it, and obviously they're not, don't get me started.

I don't know how you should begin to make such a change in your attitude, much less how to get the boys to believe in it. You'll just have to try everything.

  • Imagine what's going to become of them when you're no longer around to administer the rules.

  • Find examples of admirable men who accomplished great things and weren't trying to satisfy anybody but themselves.

  • Make them memorize the rules, and then tear down the posters and reminders.

  • Explain to them. Perhaps they don't even have a clue why you have all these rules in the first place. (Maybe they think you really are just trying to make your own life easier.)

Good luck, and always remember you are working in the most important career in the world.


I don't have a wholesale solution but two thoughts I would like to contribute:

a) Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel, who was a student of Pestalozzi said »education is example and love – that's it« (»Erziehung ist Beispiel und Liebe – sonst nichts.«). I try to put this before all rules and consequences and keep asking myself: do I show enough love and do I mind the gap enough? By »minding the gap« Brenée Brown means: do I lead with a good example? We can hardly expect our children to become polite and respectful if we aren't (and this obviously includes how we treat them).

b) I read an article by a German midwife in which she argues that children are sweet, polite, mannerly and compliant with everybody else but their parents because with their parents they experiment all the behaviour that is not tolerated elsewhere. They do this because their parents and their parents only are the people where they can be sure of unconditional love even if they behave terribly.

It's a bit difficult at times to keep a healthy balance, but I think children do need to experiment with behaviour and we should not get caught up with day-to-day incidents too much but trust that if we lead with a good example they will, too as adults.

Most importantly shortcomings should be expected and allowed, the interesting bit is how we deal with our own. I try to teach that it is ok not to be perfect all the time, it is more important to recognise when we failed to be a decent person and deal with it appropriately.

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