Dr. Murray Feingold: Advice for grandparents on disciplining grandkids

Dr. Murray Feingold

When talking to parents about how to discipline their children, I suggest certain general guidelines.

These are not earth-shaking revelations. They include such "oldies and goodies" as being consistent, which is sometimes easier to say than to do, and following through on any threats or warnings of taking certain actions if Junior does not abide by your repeated requests.

However, I must confess, I also have another set of guidelines. These are what I term my personal grandfather guidelines for disciplining grandchildren. These guidelines differ from what I generally recommend to parents.

My usual recommendation is that it is the parents' responsibility, not the grandparents', to discipline their children.

But I don't always practice what I preach.

My first guideline is that I will not get involved with how my children discipline their children, except for one proviso - if I think I need to get involved.

For example, the child's use of electronic gadgets such as computers, iPods, or the Wii. If, while visiting their homestead, I believe the blessed angels are spending too much time on these high-tech gizmos, whether I am asked to or not, I organize an "intervention" to help them kick this addictive habit and pay more attention to their elderly visitors - their grandparents.

Another time I get involved is when the child uses incorrect language. I inform them that each time they say "yea" instead of "yes" they donate a nickel to their out-of-touch grandfather. Although I have many IOUs for nickels, thus far I have not received any coins.

There are two sides to my grandfather's disciplinary code.

At times, I may consider a certain parental disciplinary action to be too strict. Since it is my policy to never openly disagree with the parents' disciplinary decisions, this one is a bit more difficult to handle.

However, I can usually do something to help stem the flow of tears while making certain the child understands that he or she did something wrong.

For me to be able to follow these grandfatherly guidelines, I need the support, although usually passive, of my grandchildren's parents. They usually put up with the intruding grandfather.

And what about my grandchildren? They usually just go with the flow and, in deference to my age, believe that this is the strange way that grandfathers usually behave.

Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of the National Birth Defects Center, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.