How to ask your family to stop spoiling your child (without starting a war!)

Grandma and boy

If the rules are very different when your child spends time with your family, and you’re the one left to deal with the messy meltdown masquerading as your child once they arrive home, mothercraft nurse Chris Minogue has some troubleshooting advice for you.

“Massive tantrum mood”

“Is there a nice way of talking to my mother about babysitting?” mum Hayley asked mothercraft nurse and Kinderling Helpline expert Chris Minogue.

Hayley says she wants her mum to stop spoiling her child because it’s impacting on the family for days on end.

“He’s two-and-a-half years old, and the next day he is always in a massive tantrum mood because he can’t get his own way with us,” Hayley explained, noting it’s “just so frustrating!”

toddler crying

Not listening

Hayley said she’s spoken to her mother many times about not hyping her son up with lollies or juice in the late afternoon, but it’s been to no avail.  

“No lollies or juice after 3pm as he won’t go to bed on time at 7,” is Hayley’s usual routine, but at her mum’s house things roll out quite differently. Hayley’s son goes to her mum’s several times a week and returns exhausted, sugar-ed up and entitled.

“I think it depends on the relationship between the two of you. She’s obviously not listening to what you’re trying to say,” Chris empathised.

Chris says that boundaries are often better respected if your child is on home turf.

“If it’s at her place it’s a little bit harder,” she notes, suggesting a location shift could be a possible solution. “So maybe mum comes to your place and then you’ve got a bit more control about what’s going on in that house.”


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Your place or mine?

Chris says a gentle heart-to-heart is really the only way forward in these situations.

“We have to have the really hard talk that says we actually do not want him to have McDonalds at two-and-a-half – or whatever the thing is,” Chris advises.

“You might say ‘look Mum, we really don’t want him to have lollies and sweets or juice at this stage. And you know you seem to be giving it to him. So maybe come and look after him at our place because then I think you can control what he’s getting.”

Little boy sad hugging mum

Of course, logistically this might not be possible, and then a slightly tougher talk may ensue.

“When it’s really disrupting the family enough that it’s influencing the way the child behaves the next day, when he’s not getting what he wants, then I think sometimes you have to very gently have a conversation: ‘look we might have to get somebody else to look after him because you don’t seem to be able to understand that this is something that we really don’t want to happen,'” Chris suggests.

That said, Chris advises taking a step back and thinking about your family member’s intent – and being careful to pick your battles before you decide on the best approach for your gang.

Listen to Mothercraft expert Chris Minogue on the Kinderling Helpline:

“You have to choose your battles when relatives are looking after your children,” Chris notes, although “when you’re an adult and your parents say ‘well we’re your parents and we’re going to do whatever we like with your child’ it doesn’t sit.”

While this kind of “spoiling” can be incredibly frustrating for parents of small children, chance are your parents are doing it with the best intentions.

“It’s a really tricky one because it’s a relative doing it, but honestly I think from your from your parents’ point of view, they probably think they’re just having a lovely time with your son,” Chris says. Often “they just want to indulge this child and you need to have that conversation about it. And it’s really hard because it’s a couple of times a week.”

“It’s a bit tricky,” Chris concluded, but “the easiest way to get ’round it is to tell your parents to come and look after him at your place.”

Toddler boy crying sad


Do you have a question for Mothercraft nurse, Chris Minogue? Join Kinderling Conversation host and mum-of-two Shevonne Hunt for friendly advice, interviews and insightful tips every Monday at 12pm.

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