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Child Caring

Grandma, you can set the rules in your house

My grand daughter lives in Hawaii, they have very liberal discipline attitudes there, I think. She is 12, mouthy, obnoxious, lazy, entitled, and not very pleasant to be around most of the time. Apparently her parents and their friends don't notice this and encourage freedom of loud screaming and disrespectful speech, behavior. She is coming home to visit for two months at my home in Pa. I want to tell her that I will not tolerate any screaming or bad attitudes in our house. Her Pappy runs a business and needs to have a quiet, relaxing place to come home to after work. Can I be firm with her and tell her how I expect her to act in our home, and expect her to behave in a manner that that is respectful?

From: Linda, Julian, PA


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Dear Linda,

The rules in your house are your rules and they can be different from the rules --or lack thereof -- that she's used to. Call them "House rules" and set them out clearly when she arrives (after she's had a chance to settle in.) For instance: "We eat dinner as a family as soon as pappy gets home, usually about 6:30; he's always really hungry after work and I like to give him a relaxing meal." Be positive: "It will be fun to have you with us!" Be inclusive and caring: "Maybe we can plan some menus together, so I can be sure to cook meals you like." Find reasons to shower praise and love: "You are so good at x." "Show me how you do that!" Poke fun at yourselves: "We're old-foggies. About the worst words we can tolerate are darn and gosh."

Here's what you can't do: Pass judgment on her parents (either of them) or on their parenting styles; on her behavior at home; on her friends, her culture or her perceived entitled bratty behavior. Similarly, don't lecture her or give her unsolicited advice. That's not to say you can't talk about these various topics; you can have conversations about differences in culture ("Is this a surprise to you, to see...x, y and z?"), about generational differences, sexuality, musical tastes, or anything else. Just work hard to come across as curious and interested, not as a sour-puss passing judgement. Some teens love hearing stories about their parents as kids and looking at family albums. Some don't. Learn to read her body language.

You want her to help you around the house? Give her choices: "Would you rather load the dishwasher or empty it?" "Set the table or clear?"

If she uses language that makes you uncomfortable, tell her so immediately and clearly: "Please, don't use that word in our home." If it happens a second time, use an icier tone to remind her: "I thought I had made myself clear about words like that. Let me say it again: Do not use that word in our home. Seriously."

You may be pleasantly surprised to find that none of the problems you anticipate surface. She knows this is her grandparents' home! She knows things will be different. She may even hope they are.

I wonder what she's going to do for the two weeks?! Talk in advance about how she will fill her days. But, more than anything, I urge you not to point a figurative (or literal!) finger at her life. It's her life. Causing her to feel she needs to defend herself will seriously impair your relationship and the visit.

PS. I don't know anything about life in Hawaii, but I bet her behavior has a lot more to do with her stage of development than with geography. If you're inclined to do a little reading before she comes, I recommend, "Staying connected to you8r teenager, How to keep them talking to you and how to hear what they're really saying," by Michael Riera.