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Having read on internet that 15–30% of kids sleepwalk at least once, I recommended my daughter to close the staircase fence when my (now 3-year-old) granddaughter sleeps; her bedroom is on the first floor and she could fall down the stairs. My daughter says she does not think the fence is necessary. The granddaughter is normal and healthy with good sleep patterns, and the mother has a good bedtime ritual (read a story, play a simple game). Should I press the point or let it go? I don't think it would cause a great quarrel, my daughter would follow my advice "just to stop grandad from grumbling". However I know my daughter and she might not close the fence every time; not as rebellion, but from laziness or thoughtlessness.

Now my dilemma: what if the worst comes to the worst and granddaughter does fall down the stairs? If I insist now, my daughter will feel guilty (I shall do my best not to say "I told you so" but she will obviously draw conclusions). If I don't insist now, then I shall feel guilty.

So, should I insist?

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  • If I insist now, my daughter will feel guilty... If I don't insist now, then I shall feel guilty what if the fence is installed, but it results non-sufficient i.e. the granddaughter sleepwalks, climbs the fence and falls from the stairs? who would fell guilty then?
    – Josh Part
    Apr 25, 2022 at 15:10
  • Of course stair gates are to be recommended and if that meant they should be mandatory, why would you not be petitioning your Government? Meanwhile did you notice which part of "15–30% of kids sleepwalk at least once" mattered? If 15–30% of kids had a sleep-walking habit, that might be tragic. If all kids sleepwalk at least once, is that really likely to be problem? I have a larger family than many, and in the last 100 years we've heard of one girl sleepwalking, once. Apr 27, 2022 at 18:49
  • @JoshPart of course everyone will feel rotten, but in such a case of "Danger Identified-Reasonable Precautions taken" I see no need for guilt.
    – NL_Derek
    Apr 28, 2022 at 20:26

3 Answers 3

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I'm not going to address the "should you have a gate" or not, because it's not relevant here.

When you're a grandparent, one of the hardest things you will do is to recognize that your relationship has changed. You're not in loco parentis any more, assuming your child is an adult and on their own. There's a huge difference between offering advice and substituting your judgement for theirs; from the language of the question, you haven't mastered that difference yet. One hint as to mastering that: if you have offered the same advice more than once, it's no longer offering advice.

It's important to recognize that you cannot subsitute your judgement for theirs. What that means is, when they evaluate the risks and benefits of a particular course of action, you must not tell them that they're wrong just because you disagree. Doing that harms your relationship significantly, and can harm your child as well. Either they get tired of you telling them what to do and stop coming to see you/letting you come over, or you devastate their self esteem as they think you don't believe they're capable of parenting safely.

As a parent, it's great to get advice from others as to what to look out for, what the dangers are and the risks. Sometimes you don't recognize every risk, and it's very helpful to have those pointed out. But recognize that as a grandparent, you're not going to evaluate the risks the same even as you did as a parent. You're not there with the kids 24/7; you don't see them and see everything they do. Further, as you age you become more risk averse; i.e., you are more concerned about risk than you were as a parent!

I'll end with my experience here. Our relationship with our childrens' grandparents is relatively good, but it definitely was a bit complicated to get there. It took a while to go through the "you're not feeding your children enough," "you're letting them go outside without a coat when it's cold," and "you're taking them to a busy museum and not holding their hand the whole time?" phase. Eventually, they learned that we were good parents who knew how to manage risk - and we tolerate the occasional bit of advice, even though sometimes it's really just second guessing. You will find this spot for yourself - but you'll find it faster, and easier, if you start from the assumption your child is a competent adult who can make their own choices.

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  • Thanks for your well-argued answer. You might add a TLDR of "advise once, then treat [daughter] as an adult".
    – NL_Derek
    Apr 28, 2022 at 20:34
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As a former sleepwalker, I will also help assuage your fears of safety. The most common form of sleepwalking in children almost always involves following routine actions in a familiar place. This is why most people do not sleepwalk in a strange place like a hotel room, and why they can often navigate very complex routes, including undoing latches and unlocking doors, because they're following that routine. If the child can, and does, navigate the stairs while awake, the odds are good that they will be perfectly safe navigating the stairs while sleepwalking. If the child does not regularly navigate those stairs, or does so with difficulty, the odds are that they will not take the stairs when sleepwalking.

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The top rated answer doesn't address gates. Mine won't address gates and sleepwalking, because that isn't when a non-sleepwalking child falls down stairs. According to the Mayo Clinic,

If anyone in your household sleepwalks, it's important to protect him or her from potential injuries related to sleepwalking. [including stairs.]

There is no such advice for families without a history of sleepwalking.

As for gates, they are strongly encouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics, because unintentional injury is still the leading cause of death in children (in the US). However, the type/placement/height/other of the gate matters so much that at some point, it's better to remove the gate to prevent injuries. The most common recommendation is to remove the gates when the child turns 2, or learns to open or climb over the gate. {(This is not the official stand of the AAP, however.)

So you can rest more easily that your grandchild is not likely to sleepwalk to the top of the stairs and fall down them. After the age of 2, there are other stair-related issues that are much more likely to result in injury than not having a gate.

But to answer your major question:

Now my dilemma: what if the worst comes to the worst and granddaughter does fall down the stairs? If I insist now, my daughter will feel guilty (I shall do my best not to say "I told you so" but she will obviously draw conclusions). If I don't insist now, then I shall feel guilty.

If you have a well constructed wall-mounted safety gate at the top of the stairs, I would suggest to your daughter that the gate be closed except when the stairs are in use by adults. I don't think it matters who will feel guilty; you will all feel terrible if the child sustains, say, a neck injury from a preventable fall down the stairs. Then when you pass the open gate, close it and leave it at that. You will have done your part. It's up to your daughter to do what she considers is her part.

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    Actually the trigger for my question was that I was babysitting (after my daughter had put her to bed), noticed the gate open and closed it. Next day my daughter remarked that she had stopped using the gate. At the time I said nothing, but wondered if I should react.
    – NL_Derek
    Apr 28, 2022 at 20:34

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