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If you walk into our 5-year-old granddaughter's room while she is playing with her dolls, she will tell you "I want time alone" and if you do not leave within several seconds she will look at you in a mean way and in a horrible voice tell you to "Get Out!" My husband and I will be visiting her in a few weeks. Do we as grandparents discipline her? How do we handle this?

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    Note that not respecting someone's desire for alone time while in their personal room is also rather rude, itself. – Erik Dec 5 '17 at 13:48
  • I can even imagine her parents might react to her if she walked into their room at the wrong time that way. Also grandparents are 'old and boring', even if their are not. Give her a reason to play with you outside of her room. – Batavia Dec 5 '17 at 20:57
  • Every kid is different. Our eldest is very territorial with anyone that isn't very, very close, effectively barring anyone except her immediate family and her "boyfriend" from entering her room. She doesn't even make an exception for her grandparents! The only adult that more or less can enter her room at will without being me or my SO is her nanny. – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Dec 6 '17 at 12:47
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Defer to her parents in all things.

While I can absolutely agree that behavior like this, particularly when expressed in such a rude fashion is unacceptable, there are a few things you have to consider.

  1. You are there temporarily. Her parents are there permanently. Any change you attempt to enact via discipline or other interventions will not stick, because you will not be there to enforce it (and presumably the parents will not either).

  2. There may be factors in play that you do not understand, given that you do not live with your children or grandchild. While you could attempt to understand these factors, again, you will not be there in a lasting capacity to act upon them in a helpful way.

  3. Any attempt to enforce change is going to be disruptive, especially if her parents are not on board. This could cause her to resent you, and cause her parents to resent you for 'meddling'.

So as well-meaning grandparents, what can you do?

Ask for guidelines from the parents.

Hey, I noticed Susie can be very abrupt when insert unwanted behavior here. Is she like that when we're not here? Is there something I could be doing differently? How would you like me to react when she insert unwanted behavior here.

This allows her parents to inform you of factors I mentioned in #2, and gives agency to the parents to guide your behavior. This will clarify the ground rules at the parent's house, and give you firmer ground when the negative behavior occurs. Notice the lack of the accusatory 'you' in the question--it's entirely focused on what you as the grandparents ought to do, not what the parents should be doing to curb this behavior.

Don't go into her room.

Seems simple enough, but allow her the control over her personal space. She is starting to assert herself, and any corrections to this ought to be handled (or not, as they choose) by her parents. Note what situations appear to be trigger points, and use them when you have conversations with her parents.

The important overall message is that her parents have primary authority over her and her behavior. Your authority and ability to discipline or guide your granddaughter should be entirely guided and informed by her parents and their wishes. While you might not agree with them, her parents have chosen to raise her in a certain way which does not reflect on you or how you brought up her parents, but is rather an expression of their lives together as a family unit.

Ignore and remove if confronted.

If the child acts like this in other situations, I'd imagine it's perfectly acceptable to say, "I don't like being talked to in this way," and turn to give your attention to something else. Note that this only applies in situations where you are not the 'aggressor', meaning you are in an open space such as a living room or family room. This doesn't apply to the bedroom situation. But I would caution you to speak to the parents first as you already know there may be flash points for their daughter.

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    I agree with pretty much all of this. The only thing I think is missing is that the grandparents should be allowed to react to the rude behaviour as they would with any other kid/adult. While they shouldn't discipline her unless they were delegated that responsibility by the parents, it seems fair to calmly point out that the way she behaves is/maybe rude. While leaving the room of course if the child has the authority to send them out. – DRF Dec 7 '17 at 10:25
  • @DRF I added a smidge about that. Given that they're already aware of undesirable behavior from the granddaughter, I think they need to talk to the parents prior to the trip to establish ground rules, but this would be helpful for if that's not possible or if the parents don't give coherent guidelines. – Marisa Dec 7 '17 at 13:39
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    For a 5 year old, a calm "I want time alone" is reasonably polite and unmistakable. Heck, I'm more than 10 times that age, and its probably the way I'd express it (I have all the social graces of the average rutabaga). After that, unless you're the parent, you're in her territory, have not responded to a polite request to leave, and she is escalating the only way she knows how. – pojo-guy Oct 18 '18 at 1:50
  • @pojo-guy Absolutely. However given the asker isn't a parent and can't reasonably expect to change the child's behavior, the next best thing is to find ways to manage and redirect it. – Marisa Oct 18 '18 at 12:12
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    @marisa I missed stating my point - IMHO the child's behavior is 100% correct for the situation, and does not need changing in substance although it could be refined at another time. – pojo-guy Oct 18 '18 at 14:03
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Talk to her parents.

You should respect her desire to play alone. I would suggest a protocol: If her door is closed, you leave her be. You can try to lure her out:

"I'm making cookies. Want to help"

"I'm going to the library. Want to come"

If she says, 'no' respond, "Ok, see you later." then go do what you said you would.

You do need to deal at some point with her rudeness. I think she is escalating from a request to outrage too quickly.

  • Keep in mind that if "I'm going to the library" and she says "no", you probably shouldn't go to the library and leave a 5yo unattended. ;) – Ian MacDonald Oct 17 '18 at 20:39
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    @IanMacDonald In today's world you are correct. I remember wandering the neighbourhood (about a km from end to end) at age 4, and walking 2 miles to school on my own at age 6. But it was a small town -- about 10K people, and there were only two four lane streets and 4 stoplights in town. I don't specifically remember being left on my own until about age 8. – Sherwood Botsford Oct 17 '18 at 23:57
  • There is a contrast between leaving her be and do tricks to get her out. Why lure her out if the time alone should be respected? I'd be happy that she can play with herself without having someone else around to entertain her all around the clock. – puck Oct 18 '18 at 17:57
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Especially since you are talking about a short-term situation, I would just leave it at handling it by showing self-respect. Calmly say, "Please talk to me nicely. I'm sorry for coming in; I didn't realize you were having some alone time. I like it when you tell me I've made a mistake so I can do it differently next time, but I don't like getting yelled at." or "Okay, I'm sorry. I don't like being talked to that harshly, so next time, please say, 'Grandma, I'm having alone time right now.'" I would also mention it to her parents, primarily in case they haven't seen her snap at people like that and also so you all can present a unified approach. They may also have some good suggestions for how they deal with it.

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    Are you suggesting the grandparents leave after saying this, or start a discussion with this? – Erik Dec 5 '17 at 19:46
  • I would either leave it for now and bring it up again when she emerges from her room, or I would end with "Are you willing to try saying it a nice way next time?" and gently press for a response (of any kind; I wouldn't expect much). Of course, all that should be said plainly without irritation, otherwise it's just another shot in the disrespect volley. – kmc Dec 11 '17 at 17:08
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    I know my response to this much jibber-jabber when I need alone time and someone has invaded my territory - it's an instant uncontrolled switch into fight or flight mode with no warning. You can't reason with a person (of any age) in that state. I think a simple "I'm sorry" and leaving might be more productive. If you really feel the need to broach the subject later, start the conversation when she is amenable to human contact. – pojo-guy Oct 18 '18 at 4:25
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I have a bit of a different opinion from the other answers. If it were me I would make it clear that children should respect adults. It would also be made clear that when a guardian is in charge, in absence of parents that not only is respect required, obedience is as well.

I would explain that if she wants alone time she needs to address the reason I entered in the first place and then politely ask 'Can I please be alone for a while?'. Maybe you want to ask whats for dinner. Maybe you want to make sure obligations like homework or getting ready for bed are met. I don't believe that any child should be able to demand either space or alone time.

  • Adults should respect children too. This kid is involved in what she's doing, and likely did not ask the grandmother to visit. If grandma had shown up at the door when the parents were not expecting her, and were involved in something they thought was important, I think they'd expect her to leave. I don't see why the child's wishes should be overridden without a thought, just because she is young. – swbarnes2 Oct 22 '18 at 22:32

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