How to handle the competition between grandparents

By Dr Richard C. Woolfson   — July 20, 2016
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    You realise you are lucky that your child has both sets of grandparents in his life – that’s very special. Yet, you are fed up with the way the two sides seem to compete with each other all the time, as if they were jealous of one another.

    They may be grown-up and mature, but sometimes you think they behave just like squabbling toddlers who want to be their parents’ favourite.

    Even worse, you have overheard one grandma deliberately bad-mouthing the other grandma in front of your four-year-old, and you saw that he was upset and didn’t know what to do or say.

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    On the plus side, you can take comfort from knowing that this inter-grandparent warfare stems from their love for you and your child.

    The truth is that they all want their grandchild to love them as much as possible, and – even if they don’t admit it – they all want to be his favourite grandparent.

    So their seemingly petty behaviour is based on positive reasons, even though it has a negative effect.

    By all means, help your child learn how to respond to derogatory remarks from one grandparent about another.

    Explain that he shouldn’t get in an argument with the off ender or try to stick up for the grandparent who is criticised – that could be misconstrued as favouritism, which would probably further the animosity.


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    Instead, teach your preschooler some key phrases that he can say whenever he feels his loyalty to one set of grandparents is tested by the other set.

    For instance, he could respond with “I love you and I love all my other grandparents, too” or “I get upset when someone says anything bad about any of my grandparents because I love them all so much” or “I love all my grandparents the same”.

    Every complaining grandparent will be stopped in their tracks by such sweet, reasonable words coming from the mouth of a lovable child.


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    However, you can’t rely on your kid to resolve those sporadic flashes of competitiveness that fly back and forth between the older generations. You have to play your part as well.

    When you overhear such negative remarks, or when your child tells you what they have said to him, reassure Junior that he is fine and that he has nothing to worry about.

    Then wait for a quiet moment, and explain your concerns to the offending grandparent.

    Tell them that you are very happy they love your child so much and point out that he reciprocates this feeling, and that you hope they will always have a close and caring relationship with each other.

    Then gently add that your child loves all four grandparents, likes spending time with them all, and has no favourites.

    Point out that if your kid feels like he is forced to show a preference, he becomes very distressed.

    No grandparent wants to see their grandchild upset.

    Remind the grandparent again that your child loves them anyway, and that they don’t need to fight for his affections. 

    He has enough love for all of them. That should reassure them that their jealousy isn’t necessary.

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    Of course, your smart kid may be quick to exploit any family division that could work in his favour.

    For instance, if he thinks that telling one grandma that she is his favourite will encourage her to buy him more sweets and toys, chances are he will try that tactic.

    Even at that age, he understands grandparent jealousy – however undesirable – can serve his interests. 

    So caution your young one against such behaviour and make sure he knows that you’ll be very annoyed if you see him attempt to take advantage of grandparent envy.


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