What a brat!

By Pieter van Zyl
17 April 2017

A woman’s letter about her spoilt grandchild hit a nerve among our readers. Here’s valuable advice for grandparents.

"HELP, my grandchild is a spoilt brat!”

You’d expect all grandmothers to have only good things to say about their grandchildren. But in the run-up to the Easter holiday, this email landed in YOU’s inbox, sent by a 54-year-old writing under the pseudonym Desperate Gran.

It’s time to call a spade a spade, she said. The grandkids of today are way too spoilt by their parents and don’t have any manners. When her four-year-old granddaughter comes to visit Grandma and Grandpa, she turns their lives upside down, Desperate Gran wrote.

Read more: ‘My granddaughter is a spoilt brat’: a frustrated grandma’s week-long nightmare

“We had to borrow a trailer because she has lots of things that must come with her and grandpa’s vehicle’s boot is too small for all her requirements.

“First all the toys are loaded – two crates full – and then there’s the trampoline. Then there’s another crate with storybooks, colouring-in books and crayons. Next are two suitcases with clothes and her ‘blankie’ without which she won’t go to sleep. There’s also a case full of DVDs and a bigger one full of medicine. And more bags with cookies and sweets. “Finally there’s an entire rulebook: this must happen at six o’clock and that at eight o’clock, at exactly 10 she must get a snack, and so on. There’s day one’s educational game, day two’s and so on.

“From day one she issues command after command at Grandma and Grandpa: she wants cookies NOW; she wants chips NOW. We soon learn to give her whatever she wants otherwise there’s a temper tantrum.

“And for the whole week, there’s no eating at the table because at her home they eat in front of the TV. And speaking of the TV: the sound must be loud otherwise she stamps her feet and complains, ‘I can’t hear!’

“No really, I think parents should go for marriage counselling before the wedding to learn about raising children.”When we published this letter on YOU’s website it soon became clear Desperate Gran isn’t the only one who feels this way.

When we published this letter on YOU’s website it soon became clear Desperate Gran isn’t the only one who feels this way.

A reader, Vivien Reid, says she recently encountered a couple who were desperately trying to please a spoilt grandchild. “I had two grandparents in my shop last week,” she says. “They were distraught. They’d been told to buy a certain gift for the child’s birthday. They said they just couldn’t afford that particular item. They told me that on each birthday the child merely tosses aside what they’ve given her because she gets such exciting and expensive things from her parents and others.” But other readers blame the grandparents for letting things get out of hand in the first place.

“I don’t understand why the grandparents allowed and enabled this behaviour,” writes Samantha Buchanan.

“Whenever my parents looked after my son they’d discipline when needed and always tell me about it, which I appreciated. A child will always push boundaries…which is why boundaries are needed, or you get the tail wagging the dog.”

“It’s the grandparents who started by agreeing to all the terms from the parents,” Samantha van der Merwe writes. “No four-year-old needs a trailer of goods– my mom helped to look after my daughter and my daughter knows the rules.”

Some readers had advice for Desperate Gran. Nobahle Mahle says she’d sort a naughty grandchild out in no time. “I don’t care how spoilt a child is but under my roof they play by my rules from day one. In the future don’t take a trailer; just take a few toys and clothes and no sweets or chips. If she cries, let her know she won’t die from crying. I wish you could lend me that brat for just a week.”

Sylvia Penney-Lombard encourages Desperate Gran to set ground rules. “Firstly, in my home, it’s my rules. I have a selection of kids’ books and puzzles, an outside bat-and-ball set and swimming aids. We follow my timetable at MY home. “We say please and thank you and excuse me from the table. A tantrum gets ignored or it’s time-out in the corner. We go to the local park, climb trees and play on the swings. You’re the grandma –demand the respect you deserve.” When we recently contacted Desperate Gran she said her granddaughter was visiting again. She’d taken some of the advice offered online to heart and so far it was going well. “We now decorate cookies. The entire house is full of flour and crumbs but she enjoys it.”

When your grandkids come to visit, two things are important to make sure things run smoothly: parents and grandparents must communicate, and the rules and routines both parties follow at home must be respected, says Dr Lesley Corrie, a forensic social worker based in Upington and author of books about children’s rights. While you don’t want to be seen as interfering or make parents feel you’re undermining them, you need to make it clear you have boundaries that must be respected.


Be involved from early on. Start creating bonds with the child so you understand their temperament and know how to handle them, the internet says psychologist Dr Rosa Bredekamp from Cape Town.

It's important parents and grandparents communicate about their expectations as this will help prevent problems. Discuss the fact that at Grandma’s home there might not the internet, Dr Corrie says. Make it clear to the child: what’s allowed at Mommy’s home isn’t necessarily allowed at Grandma’s home, Dr Corrie advises. The grandparents might live in a retirement home where kids may not run around and make a noise as they do at home. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Children feel safe only in a framework with boundaries, where love and discipline go hand in hand, adds Hester Bosman-Sadie, a forensic social worker from Durbanville, Cape Town. If during the visit the child’s behaviour caused problems or there was reason for concern, it’s the grandparents’ duty to inform the parents. The parents can then decide how to respond, Dr Corrie says.

Behaviour is always meaningful. A grandchild’s problematic behaviour could have a medical cause or it might be a cry for help from a child who feels unsafe or whose experiencing trauma, Bosman-Sadie says. There might be a need for professional help if it gets out of control. Remember that grandparents don’t always have to be available when parents want to bring their kids for a visit. “You have a choice,” Dr Corrie says.

Many kids these days are tech-savvy from a young age, says Larissa Ernst, a psychologist from Cape Town. But Grandma and Grandpa don’t have to feel obliged to join in. “Grandparents can involve grandchildren by teaching them alternative forms of entertainment– like how to look for fairies or gnomes in the garden or how to play hide-and-seek.” And even though your rules apply at your home, grandparents should speak to parents about disciplining their children if the need arises, says Carol Dixon, a psychologist from Durban. To you, a smack on the bottom might be completely acceptable while more modern parents might see it as abuse.


Don’t give grandparents a long list of instructions when your kids go to visit. As a parent, you should relay only the most important information, such as when the child must get their medication.

Children learn to show respect when their parents conduct themselves with dignity, Bosman-Sadie adds.

“Always remain in control of yourself. When there’s a problem your example shouldn’t be to become hysterical – that teaches the child to throw a tantrum if they don’t get their way.”Constantly calling your kids at their grandparents ’to hear “if things are being done correctly” also only causes suspicion and confusion.

Constantly calling your kids at their grandparents ’to hear “if things are being done correctly” also only causes suspicion and confusion.

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