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A column that tackles behavioural problems from toddlers to teens.

The problem

Grandparents – in their loving exuberance – have a tendency to do the opposite of what you feel is best for your kids.

We try to raise our kids so that they will be healthy and develop self-discipline. We want to teach them how to be strong in the face of the temptations. "Hello! It's me, Grandma. I've brought my special treats for my special darlings: chocolate peanut caramel gooey bars."


"Mother, how many times do I have to ask you? We don't want the kids eating that junk."

"You're overreacting, Marguerite. An occasional chocolate peanut caramel gooey bar is not going to destroy the children. Look kids, the caramel layer is making smiley faces at you."


What not to do

Don't make a major issue out of it. Your fear is that the occasional treat can translate into a constant craving, a way of life – that candy from Grandma will undermine all the hard-won battles you've accomplished. Certainly children will try.

"But why? Why can't we have candy like Grandma gives us. You're mean."

If you hold firm, however, they do learn. "I get candy at Grandma's, but no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to get Mom to change her mind about her giving us candy. Well, it's better than nothing."

It's a reality of life. Different people, different rules.

If there's a major health issue then you have to persist. But really, you have to pick and choose your battles. And for most children, grandparents who spoil should not be a major battleground.

What to do instead

It is fine to raise your concerns with your parents.

"Mother, please. You know how I don't like you always bringing candy for the kids."

This will probably have some effect. ("Maybe next time I'll only bring the bars without the peanuts.")

Or it may not. But remember, as I said, it is not worth a major battle. Grandma's overindulgent beneficence is an exception in their life. If you are the main parent who has charge of them the majority of the time, you will be the main influence on your children. And if they have someone in their life who sometimes gives them special treats – which the children know are forbidden by their parent – but of whom they think of very fondly, is that such a bad thing at all?

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books including I'd Listen to My Parents If They'd Just Shut Up. E-mail him your thorny questions at