Want to up your grandparenting game? These are the 6 phrases to avoid saying, according to experts

“It’s never too late to start being more mindful of how you approach interactions with your grandchildren”

Grandmother and her granddaughter
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Parenting experts have revealed the six phrases grandparents want to avoid saying to their grandkids - and they prove it's not always what you say, but how you say it. 

With all the massive differences that make up the generation gap, knowing what to say to grandchildren can be difficult sometimes. While they're throwing out barely understandable teenage slang that they've picked up from being on social media seemingly all of the time, knowing how to respond in or even start conversation with a grandchild can be hard - in which case, these teen conversation starters and fantastic facts for kids can help. 

But sometimes, when you do know what to say, experts have revealed that what you may think is harmless language could actually 'create an environment where grandkids feel uncomfortable or insecure.' 

That's according to Ann-Louise Lockhart, a paediatric psychologist and president of A New Day Pediatric Psychology in San Antonio. Speaking to HuffPost, she shared, “It can be hard to change the way you say things but it’s important to be intentional with your words, and be aware of how much words can impact the way your grandkids think and feel about themselves and their relationship with you.”

With that in mind, Lockhart and other parenting experts have now revealed the six phrases grandparents want to avoid saying and some will be more difficult to curb than others. But, as Andrea Dorn, a psychotherapist and author of the Mindful Steps children’s book series told the publication, “It’s never too late to start being more mindful of how you approach interactions with your grandchildren."

1. “Don’t tell your parents.” Clinical psychologist Zainab Delawalla knows that it may feel like you're building a bond with a grandchild by saying this, leaning into some cheeky behaviour that makes them feel close to you, but ultimately, the phrase "undercuts parental authority, which can have long-standing consequences.

"Furthermore, it models for kids that they might find themselves in situations where it’s in their ‘best interest’ not to tell their parents. This can be especially dangerous if a child is being groomed by a predator or feels bad about themselves for getting bullied.”

2. “You’re getting so big! Have you put on weight?” This one is an especially big no-no, says Lockhart. “As responsible adults, it’s our duty to support and encourage children to be confident in their own skin,” she explains. “Let’s avoid making any comments that could potentially harm their self-worth and lead to insecurity. 

"I hear about it constantly in my practice from young children through adults. Harsh comments from grandparents like this are remembered and replayed over and over again.”

Instead of focusing on physical appearance, make comments about internal traits your grandkids have to remind them that what's on the inside counts more than what's on the outside. It will go wonders in helping improve their self-confidence and self-esteem. 

3. “Wow, you ate more than I did!” Dorn implores grandparents to avoid any comments about food intake as they can have a surprisingly strong influence on how kids approach mealtimes. “Comments about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ eating habits can influence children to adjust their eating behaviour in reaction to another person’s comments or perspective, rather than following the signals their body is sending them," she explains. "It may also trigger feelings of shame or confusion in the moment or over time.”

4. “You’re so spoiled.” This phrase applies to when you notice your grandchildren being ungrateful for what they have more so than them actually being spoiled. However, this type of behaviour, especially if it's pretty consistent, is more likely caused by how a child has been brought up than any personal thoughts they have developed. 

Ryan Howes, a clinical psychologist, explains, “If they are acting entitled and ungrateful, this may be a behaviour they learned or saw modelled for them, maybe even something that was reinforced by their parents. So giving them all the blame isn’t fair. Suck it up or talk with the parents, but keep the judgment to yourself.”

5. “You better come over here and give me a hug or a kiss!” You may want nothing more than your grandchild to love and adore you and show you as such through physical affection but, as Dorn says, many kids are not comfortable giving hugs and kisses on demand and they don't have to be. 

“While this phrase is likely filled with love and a completely normal desire to foster closeness and connection with a child, it can also unintentionally take away a child’s right to autonomy and pressure them to abandon and second-guess their body boundaries. This can send confusing messages about consent.”

Instead, you need to respect their boundaries - and learn what setting a boundary with kids really sounds like. In this case, the expert recommends phrasing the demand as a question, “I’d love to give you a hug. Is that OK?”

6. “Your parents are wrong about... ” While many grandparents have positive thoughts about today’s most popular parenting trends, many still don't appreciate the generally more gentle approach the new generation is taking. But that is not something, Howes shares, that should be taken out on the grandkids. It has nothing to do with them. 

"Of course, grandparents grew up in a different era with different customs and norms, and it’s natural to want to comment on the differences,” he says. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with pointing out these distinctions, but it’s very easy for those comments to come across as shaming. By shaming, I mean declaring that one way was right and another is wrong, and that there is something wrong with the grandchild or their parents.

“If grandparents have a beef with how their child is parenting, they should bring it up to them or keep it to themselves, but leave the grandchildren out of it.”

There's more focus now than ever before on the intricacies of grandparenting. There's no question as to why considering that more than half of grandparents now look after their grandchildren while their parents are at work. If you do want to up your grandparenting game, read up on 'the grandparent code', a list of 12 grandparenting rules to keep family relationships strong and healthy as well as the 5 grandparenting behaviours to try and avoid, according to experts. 

News writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is a news writer for Goodtoknow, specialising in family content. She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.