The Grandmothers

Punishment vs. Discipline

Dear Grandmothers: I assumed that because of your ages you would be advocates of teaching kids right from wrong the old fashioned way: punishment for breaking the rules. But instead you seem to suggest that those of us who give our kids a swat on the behind from time to time are ruining their delicate little egos. I bet the kids we see running wild these days just get “talked to,” never punished.

--a Former Reader

Dear Former Reader: Thanks for writing! Before you stop reading us altogether, please take a look below at a couple of misunderstandings we’d like to clear up.

Misunderstanding #1: We have not been suggesting, not even hinting, that you are ruining your children if you punish them. We are sure that your children know that you love them and are benefiting from your guidance. Full disclosure here: we were punished as children and in turn punished our children. Both generations grew up to be upstanding citizens, conscientious and even admirable adults, and we’re sure your children will do likewise, even if punished occasionally.

Misunderstanding #2: We are not opposed to discipline (if by discipline you mean definitions numbers one and two in our Random House College Dictionary, definitions that refer to rules and proper conduct). It is definition number 3 that we question: punishment.  We are FOR discipline, when discipline means setting limits, enforcing rules, and maintaining a safe atmosphere where children feel secure and adults are in control. 

So our only possible area of disagreement lies in determining the best method for parents to use in helping a child choose between right and wrong. We happen to believe that punishment may make them do the right thing, but discipline helps them learn to make the right choice for themselves. And we prefer moving in the direction of self-control rather than anxiety over getting caught.

We are absolutely in agreement with you that the children we see running amok in shopping malls, supermarkets and public playgrounds are in sad need of firmer parental control. Quite possibly their parents are among those who don’t want to punish their children but don’t know how to do anything but whine and plead. They’re afraid to say no, and feel helpless in the face of their children’s anger. 


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Volume 4, Issue 1, Posted 5:29 PM, 01.30.2012

Grandmothers - "When to Get Help"

                                            WHEN TO GET HELP

My pediatrician says he’ll outgrow it.

     Of course he will.  He’s an average kid from a good-enough family so he will not be wearing diapers to high school, sucking on his pacifier at his college graduation ceremony, or throwing tantrums in the grocery check-out line when he goes shopping with his wife.

     Of course, because he is of average good health and from a good-enough gene pool, he probably would outgrow all his childhood diseases too, without medical intervention.  But you take him for regular check-ups anyway, and make sure he sees the doctor when he is sick, because you don’t want him to suffer the unnecessary pain and stress of an untreated illness.  You don’t want him to suffer the unnecessary pain and stress of an unexamined developmental conflict, either, so that’s why you worry about the diapers and pacifier and tantrums, even though any number of people tell you not to worry, that he’ll outgrow it.

My mother says I worry too much.

     She means well.  Some parents do tend to worry too much, and need to be reminded once in a while that some problems are minor, predictable, and won’t last forever.  Ah, but you ask, which ones?

I’m still worried.



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Volume 3, Issue 9, Posted 4:33 PM, 12.31.2011

Talking to Your Kids About Sex


Times have changed radically since we Grannies were youngsters and able to remain naively innocent about sexual matters until well into our teens.  But there are still some basic truths we can pass on.  They come in two varieties: timeless truths and challenging ones.    


Timeless Truth #1 – Don’t tell your children more than they ask for.  When your young child sees a pregnant woman and asks why she’s so fat, tell him that she has a baby growing inside her body, and that once he was a baby nestled inside his mother.  While you’re at it, try to use the correct vocabulary.  The baby is in his mother’s uterus, not her “tummy.”  Tummies hold food, and your child could be confused by the idea of the baby swimming around in a sea of mashed potatoes and raisin bran.  But you can stop right there with the anatomy lesson.  Save the charts with the labeled vas deferens and Fallopian tubes for the questions that come later. 

Timeless Truth #2 – Answer the questions with matter-of-fact candor.  Even if the questions make you squirm, conceal your embarrassment and don’t give your child the impression that what he is asking about is ugly or unpleasant.  Use the word “penis” as casually as you say “ankle” or “ear.” Love and teach him love of his body uniformly.  If he asks his question in a very public place, tell him that you’ll talk about it later, but then be sure that you do so.  To hope that he’ll forget about it later is to give him the message that he’s stumbled into forbidden territory.  If you express alarm at what he asks, he’ll stop asking.



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Volume 3, Issue 8, Posted 10:05 PM, 10.05.2011

The Grandmothers

The Grandmothers are vacationing in Sun City. If you have a question about your child's puzzling behavior that YOUR grandmother can't answer, please email it to us at  Or mail it to The Grandmothers, 650 E. 185th Street, Cleveland OH 44119.

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Volume 3, Issue 6, Posted 4:07 PM, 08.08.2011

When the kid says she likes Daddy best

Dear Grandmothers: Lately our two-year-old daughter has been rejecting me in favor of her father. She wants Daddy to read her a bedtime story, Daddy to pour her juice, Daddy to hold her hand etc.  I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but it does. Any advice?

- Rejected Mom

Dear Rejected: If trying to not let it get to you isn’t working, you might want to consider possible reasons why your daughter has started choosing daddy instead of mommy. We’re not suggesting, nor do we think that you are, that you wouldn’t want her to love being with her daddy. We’re only responding to your feeling of being left out. So we’re suggesting a few possibilities:



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Volume 3, Issue 5, Posted 4:54 PM, 07.09.2011

The Grandmothers on binkies

In Anne Tyler’s novel, “Digging to America,” there’s a humorous scene in which a mother plans an elaborate scheme for separating her 3-year-old daughter from her pacifier. She invites all the mothers and young children she knows to a party, the climax  of which will be the releasing of a clutch of helium balloons with binkies (pacifiers) attached to them. On her daughter’s balloon is THE pacifier, of course, which will dramatically sail up into the heavens and, the mother is confident, thus be out of her daughter’s life forever. The party goes as planned, with the little girl willingly releasing her balloon and watching her beloved binkie fly away, and the mother satisfied that her scheme has worked. But after the balloons and binkies are out of sight and the guests are beginning to leave, the mother discovers her daughter happily sucking on a pacifier that she has swiped from the mouth of one of the visiting babies.

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Volume 3, Issue 4, Posted 9:33 AM, 06.05.2011

Excitement vs. Fun

In most circles, “exciting” and “excitement” are positive words often considered synonymous with “fun.”  A movie, a television program, even an activity for young children, is praised for being exciting. Using the common definition, the opposite of “exciting” is “boring,” and “boring” is to be avoided at all costs.

The term “excitement,” however, can also refer to agitation, overstimulation and loss of control – the opposite of “calm.”  Parents, observing their over-excited children running around in circles, coming close to knocking over the birthday cake, the table lamp or each other, exhort them to stop and “calm down.”  These moments are definitely NOT “fun” – especially when a child, in addition to the cake or the lamp, suffers some damage.

You’ve already learned to spot the signs that your child is getting over-stimulated. His voice raises both in pitch and volume, his eyes narrow and his teeth clench with aggression or, if he is the victim of some other overexcited child, his eyes widen with fear and approaching tears. You feel the need to jump in and stop the running, the wrestling, the tickling, before the loud laughter turns to loud sobs. You can hear your mother’s words from your childhood coming out of your mouth, saying, “Now, just stop before someone gets hurt!”  But you may want to squelch that impulse, because you don’t want to spoil the “fun.”

Go with your first reaction and stop the escalation of excitement before it takes over and the “fun” ends in band-aids or broken table lamps or worse. Your child may even protest that he and his friends were just playing, that no one would get hurt. But he in fact is not enjoying this scary excitement very much, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly he will accept the substitute activity that you suggest.

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Volume 3, Issue 3, Posted 12:15 PM, 05.04.2011

Talking to children about disabilities

Sidewalks are now made without curbs at the corners and laws prohibit putting up new buildings that are not accessible to everyone. We are now aware of the extra large stalls in bathrooms and parking for people with disabilities in every mall. We take these improvements in our way of life for granted now. We assume that our toddlers and preschoolers also take these changes for granted and don’t notice the person in the wheelchair or leaning on a walker. That is, until our very curious four-year-old sees a man with Cerebral Palsy and blurts out, “What’s the matter with him?”  What do we do or say at that moment?

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Volume 3, Issue 2, Posted 11:10 AM, 04.04.2011

The Grandmothers on how and when to say, "Good Job!!!"

“100 Ways to Say ‘Good Job!’” the heading on the sheet of stickers says, and then all 100, from “Awesome” to “Zero Mistakes,” appear with accompanying smiley faces and abundant exclamation points. These are sold to teachers as self-esteem promoters. Everyone, teachers and children alike, know them to be artificial at best, but at least they are evidence of the general awareness that self-esteem is an important commodity.

But self-esteem is not so easily created, and certainly not when imposed from without. Self-esteem by definition has to grow from within. Students who receive praise for work they know full well to be less than their best feel worse about themselves, in fact, not better, when they hear a perfunctory “Good job!” Older students feel dismissed, unworthy of a more time-consuming and honest critique of their efforts. Younger ones just feel vaguely guilty.


It’s all too easy to fall into the phony “Good job!” trap. If the admiration is sincere, the child senses that. If he distrusts the praise, however, he will feel not encouraged but manipulated. And if he grows to depend on the adult for confirmation that he’s done a “good job,” then he has not gained in self-esteem. 

Sometimes, in fact, words are unnecessary. If a child is absorbed in a project, he might well feel interrupted, even patronized, if an adult bursts in with effusive burbles and coos. It’s perfectly OK to just smile and nod, and then go about one’s business as the child continues with his, permitting his satisfaction to come from within.

If words are called for, however, better than “Good job!” might be the words,“You must feel good about being able to climb up to the top of that climber. You have been working hard at that. Last week you had to stop halfway up and now you’re at the very top.”  The child will benefit from hearing what exactly is being admired, and also from reflecting on how he feels about his accomplishment, not how the adult feels. You certainly don’t want him to start doing a “good job” only to win your praise; you want him to do a good job for the job’s sake, for his own inner satisfaction.


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Volume 3, Issue 1, Posted 1:05 PM, 03.08.2011

During the Holidays it's worse

Dear Grandmothers:

I have this problem all of the time but during the holidays it seems worse and I’ve been meaning to write so now I am doing so.

I am a divorced mom with two kids, 6 and 9.  I have the main custody of my kids but they get time to go with their dad to his family’s events during the holidays, or wherever he wants to take them.

His family hates me and tells my children bad things about me that are not true and that upset them and my ex does nothing to stop it and even maybe encourages it.

I don’t even know what they say because I think my kids don’t tell me when they get back to not hurt my feelings or because they are hurt or confused or they are afraid that what those people say is TRUE!

I have talked to my former spouse about this. I try to not say anything about him to my kids, I realize the court says he can see them. He does not seem to pay attention, I don’t think he wants to cross his family and stand up for me.

I don’t know what to do about this, don’t know what to say to my kids to not make it worse.

Thank you and happy holidays. I appreciate your column whenever I see it. I would like to show this to my ex husband.

Marilyn M., North Collinwood.

Dear Marilyn,

You are so right: during the holidays it is worse. Everything is worse, because we are assaulted on all sides by visions of smiling families sitting around perfectly symmetrical and lavishly decorated Christmas trees, knee-high in gifts and good will. In reality, most live trees have a regrettable side, and most real life families do, too. In our heads we realize that, but in our hearts we wish so desperately that we could have, just once, the holiday season of our dreams. 

And it seems especially unfair that our children have to be exposed to adult conflicts in the midst of the holiday festivities. It’s so hard for kids when the people they love are in disagreement, and they feel themselves being pulled apart by loyalty to both sides. To avoid this, many kids choose not to talk about it, thus avoiding additional conflict but also leaving themselves with no one to talk to about their unhappiness and confusion. Meanwhile the separated parents – consciously and subconsciously - take satisfaction in hearing recriminating things about each other, and with the relatives contributing their opinions the children hear comments that can be unfair and exaggerated.


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Volume 2, Issue 12, Posted 9:46 AM, 12.10.2010

The Sophia Project

Dear Grandmas,

There is a sweet little girl who lives next door who is FIVE, whose single mother turns her loose every morning allowing anyone else in the neighborhood to take care of her all day. If she could she would live in my backyard with my little girls.  Her mom works nights and sleeps all the time. I can't keep feeding this little girl and keep breaking up fights she gets into with neighborhood kids, including mine because she's pretty desperate for attention and she's not good at crossing the street either. I work also. At home. Help! (It's after school too!) THANK YOU.
- Colleen D. (not a mean mother or a bad neighbor REALLY!)

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Volume 2, Issue 9, Posted 4:02 PM, 09.03.2010

The Long Staycation

Dear Grandmas,

We are having the most stay at home staycation we have ever had this summer and so far the kids are going stir crazy.  We have been trying to go to the pool but they aren’t old enough to go by themselves or with neighbor kids yet.  Plus I work at home, so I can’t take them very much.  You grandmas seem to have good ideas for when everyone is climbing the walls.  They are in reading club at the library for summer and we do that, but that only works for a half hour a day – reading.  At night when my wife comes home, it is chaos.  Please help.  Thank you.  – Thomas R.

Dear Thomas R.,

I’m afraid we’ve let you down. By now the summer is 2/3 over and you’ve muddled through without any advice from the Grandmas.  But we’re going to try to answer your question anyway, because there’s always NEXT summer, and also the last few weeks of this one. There’s a lot we don’t know about your situation, and we are wondering, do you live in a house or an apartment, how old are your kids, how many hours a day are you obliged to dedicate to your work, etc.? 

But in spite of all that, we have come up with some generic, one-size-fits-all suggestions: 

1. Day Camp, or a couple of neighborhood teens who will personalize one for your kids and maybe a few other children.  This would provide supervision and playmates for your children and also a wonderful opportunity for the neighborhood teens to make a little money and learn some child care skills. One of the grandmother’s daughters ran such a day camp some years back and now is a child psychologist. No kidding. And as far as we know all the children who were in her care grew up to be well-adjusted.

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Volume 2, Issue 8, Posted 12:29 PM, 07.24.2010


Dear Grandmothers: We’re going to be moving to another house in a few weeks, and whenever I try to talk to our kids about it, they tell me they don’t want to move, or give me blank stares like they don’t know what I’m talking about. We showed them the new place a couple of times, but they didn’t seem impressed. What’s their problem?

Let us start by assuming that you are moving out of choice, not a painfully wrenching economic necessity. We’d have a different answer for that situation.

But in any case, moving from one home to another, whether halfway around the world or merely to another part of town, is upsetting, literally as well as emotionally. Everything must be packed, moved, changed. Children’s sense of security depends in part on familiar surroundings and schedules, on predictability. They might not be able to understand why their parents might think a move is such a great idea in the first place. 

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Volume 2, Issue 7, Posted 2:58 PM, 06.25.2010

Grandma X

Dear Grandmas,

This is a question about grandmas; it should be perfect for you, I hope. My in-laws are from out of town. Last time they visited, my daughter referred to her other, in-town grandmother as her “real” grandma. My mother-in-law made a joke, and now refers to herself as Grandma X. My daughter (she is 6) feels like she did something wrong, and stayed away from my mother-in-law most of the time they were here. I talked to my daughter about it but “Grandma X” keeps calling herself that and I’m worried that when they are here the next time, my daughter will spend even less time with her, when they have so little time together already. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks!

--Mother of a very self-conscious little girl

Dear Mother,

Yes, you have come up with a question that penetrates right to the grandmotherly bone. Most of us have both in-town and out-of-town children, so we alternately play the roles of both “Grandma X” and “real grandma.” Through the years we’ve come up with two rules for competing with the other grandmother: 1) Don’t; and 2) Whatever the child does or says, don’t take it personally. As tempting as it is to try to be designated the best grandmother, to buy the best presents, to play with the grandchildren the most tirelessly - drop out of that contest before it begins. We grandmothers need to stick together, to support one another, complement as well as compliment one another. And as to not taking it personally: even small babies will reject a caregiver who was their favorite moments before; toddlers will tease and older children will manipulate with their fickleness. They are just practicing making choices and having preferences and don’t mean it as personal rejection, so grandma needn’t take it that way.

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Volume 2, Issue 6, Posted 9:26 AM, 05.28.2010

The Grandmothers on scary church stories

Dear Grandmothers,
One of the kids at my son's pre-school told him about the crucifixion, and what happened, with all the exact details and he was horrified. Telling him about Easter Sunday did not make him feel better. He has been crying about this at night and is afraid of regular pictures of Jesus in a book. I hope it's okay to ask this question because it's about religion and everybody has their own opinion. I just wanted to know if any of you grandmas ever ran into a situation like this and what you did.
Thank you.
Worried Mother

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Volume 2, Issue 5, Posted 10:58 AM, 05.06.2010

The Grandmothers on Clean-up Time

Dear Ladies,

My kids do not pick up the house.  It gets to a certain point and yelling is involved, and then they pick up.  As soon as it’s picked up they start messing it up again.  I don’t have time to stand over them; I feel like throwing out all their stuff.  Please help.  Thank you, Single Dad.

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Volume 2, Issue 3, Posted 5:31 PM, 03.10.2010

The Grandmothers on Not enough of Mom

“Dear Grandmothers, Up until recently I have been a stay-at-home mom with several small project-based jobs I could do online for extra money during early morning hours.  In October, I took on a real online part-time job, because our family needs the money, with paycuts (but no cuts in hours) that have been made by my husband’s employer. I now work on my laptop at the kitchen table while I cook, while the kids do homework, etc. and my kid time (I have two, 6 and 8) has been severely cut. My kids are unhappy, “hating mommy’s job,” acting out, making it hard to concentrate when I HAVE to. I feel bad for them, and want things to be better but I have to keep this job. Any advice?” – Samantha R., Lakeshore Blvd. 

Dear Samantha,

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Volume 2, Issue 2, Posted 11:35 AM, 02.13.2010

The Grandmothers on Tantrums

Dear Grandmothers: Do you have any advice on what to do with kids who throw temper tantrums?

Dear Collinwood Observer Reader: Of course we do. We have advice on everything. Tantrums are something we are often asked about, because they are a stage of development parents would like to be able to move their child through as quickly as possible. Tantrums often occur in public places such as supermarket check-out lines and shopping malls. They are characterized by out-of-control screaming and thrashing, and if the parent starts screaming and thrashing herself, matters only get worse.

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Volume 2, Issue 1, Posted 3:58 PM, 01.14.2010

The Grannies' Holiday Shopping Guide

The Grannies' Holiday Shopping GuideDear Grandmothers: Our holiday shopping issue of the Observer will be coming out soon, and we can hear our readers asking, “eek, what can I get my kid/grandkid who has everything?” or, given the economy, “what can I get my kid that will be valuable but doesn’t cost a lot?”  What do the Grandmothers suggest? – Erin Randel

Dear Erin and all you Observer readers,

Remember “Little House on the Prairie,” when the Ingalls girls were thrilled to receive an orange and a peppermint stick in their stockings, and nothing more? We Grandmothers aren’t quite THAT old, but when it comes to The Holidays, we are that old-fashioned. We would love to see modest gift exchanges become the norm again, as opposed to mounds and mounds of gifts under an over-decorated tree, or, worse yet, unhappy children who had hoped for mounds and mounds of gifts under the tree but were disappointed.

So, if you are quite satisfied with your holiday celebrations as they’ve always been, with excessive gifts followed by excessive credit card bills, you can stop reading right now. But if, on the other hand, you’d like some ideas for some less costly but meaningful gifts for your children, grandchildren, and nieces and nephews, read on.
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Volume 1, Issue 6, Posted 10:02 AM, 12.10.2009

The Grandmothers: Go play!

Dear Collinwood Observer Reader: No one has asked for our advice lately, so we're going to offer some today unsolicited, on the subject of play.THE OLD DAYS

Finally, research has vindicated the mothers of half a century ago who routinely opened the back screen door and told their kids to go play, and not to bother coming back until the street lights came on or they heard the dinner bell, whichever came first. Turns out these mothers were not being abusive and neglectful. The moms of the previous century didn’t know it, of course, but they were ensuring that their children developed a critical cognitive skill called “executive function.”

What kids did when their hours were not filled with TV, video games, and electronic toys (or yoga classes, soccer games, and tiny tot gymnastics) was regulate their own activities, mostly in improvised imaginative play. They played cops and robbers, house, or school, their own reality-based dramas. They also became the characters in fantasies involving queens and dragons, cowboys and horses, flying caped heroes and tall buildings, pirates and sinking ships. And as they did this, researchers are telling us now, they were developing “executive function,” the ability to self-regulate, the measurement of which turns out to be a better indicator of success in school than the results of an IQ test.  Kids with good self-regulation skills are better able to control their emotions, resist impulsive behavior, and become self-disciplined and self-controlled.

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Volume 1, Issue 5, Posted 10:20 AM, 11.19.2009