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Two-Year-Old Ruining Family Events

QUESTION: I have an obnoxious granddaughter. It is not her fault, but the fault of her parents. They ruined our most recent holiday dinner because they let this two-and-a-half-year-old run wild in our home. The child stomped my foot, gouged my dining room table with the handle of a spoon, and told her great-grandmother, "I don't like you!" That is only a small sample of her horrible behavior, which her parents dismiss or think is cute. The conflict is getting nasty. Some guests left early, and other family members are saying hateful things about this child. Help!

ANSWER: This is indeed a difficult dilemma. Naturally, you may consider having a discussion about this behavior with your grandchild's parents, but likely you have already tried this and failed, with your comments being received as criticism rather than support. But do not give up! There are some positive possibilities on the horizon.

First, keep in mind that if your granddaughter is acting this poorly at your home, this is very likely happening at other places, too. Sooner or later, the parents will have to grapple with this situation. They may not, however, be ready to do so at this time. There may also be a difference in child-rearing philosophy between the generations. It is not uncommon for children to act out any tension at holiday gatherings, which only intensifies the problem. And two years of age is a notorious period for doing just that!

Regardless, the need for discipline will eventually become evident to the parents, and they will find themselves needing to set limits. In the meanwhile, you are certainly welcome to do your best to let the parents know that this state of affairs is very trying. But you can also make POSITIVE suggestions for activities, or structure the environment at family gatherings so that it is kid-friendly, rather than only adult-oriented.

To begin with, clarify your house rules. Let your granddaughter know it is not acceptable to bang hard objects on the table or stomp on people's feet in your house. But do not stop there! To help channel her energies more appropriately, offer some child-centered activities.

For example, involve your granddaughter in helping cook the family dinner. She will love stirring the batter for a holiday bread. You might even bake a few cookies just for her. This will not only encourage her to cooperate with your house rules, but also develop the bond between grandparent and grandchild.

Be aware that her acting-out may be an expression of anger or boredom. Make sure there is plenty to entertain her while adults are talking. Buy or rent some children's videos, and suggest to the parents that they bring a couple of favorite videos, books or toys. If she is getting out of control, suggest that a parent (or another interested relative!) take her for a walk around the block to let off steam, or to a park to play. Consider having some children's toys, such as a tricycle or some other riding toys, available for outdoor activity. Some families handle this situation by taking turns "playing" with the child.

Consider whether you have gone the extra mile to make a positive difference in this situation. Be willing to accommodate, and have patience. Rest assured, such "cuteness" eventually wears off, even for parents. Her parents will no doubt help their daughter learn self-control through effective discipline within the next two years. And by age four, there is a world of difference in a child's ability for self-control.

Be proactive in helping to manage this situation. This may be the best course of action you can take at this time. In this way, you will avoid criticizing, and you will show your willingness to be a part of the solution. After all, isn't that what family is all about?

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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