Q. "Whenever we visit my in-laws with our 1- and 2-year-old daughters, they get one 'no' after another. There's no place to sit, stand or run that is allowed. Valuables are left out, windows and doors left open. Do you have any suggestions for further visits? My mother-in-law refuses to change anything because she says the kids need to learn to behave."
-- A mother in Minneapolis, Minn.
A. Yes, children do need to learn to behave, but a house full of "no-no's" is not a safe training ground for toddlers. Plastic vs. porcelain? It's all the same when you're 1 or 2.
"The house has to be child-proof," says Arthur Kornhaber of Ojai, Calif., president of the Foundation for Grandparenting. "We suggest that grandparents get down on their knees and look around at the child's eye level to see what needs to be changed."
Be realistic -- curious and impulsive toddlers lack the ability to tell right from wrong, Kornhaber says. Basic steps: Remove breakables, store cleaners and prescriptions in baby-proof cabinets, cover outlets.
"If the grandparents won't (consider the kids' needs), it's important to tell them that this environment is hazardous for their grandchildren," he says. "We're talking about safety here."
A visit in a home that's not kid-friendly is nerve-wracking enough, parents agree, but even worse if you feel your parenting style is up for review. A popular solution: Invite the grandparents to your home instead.
"To have to hover over young children in order to prevent any accidents is not having a visit, but an extended aerobic workout," says a grandmother from Schenectady. "If either set of our in-laws insisted on Limoges and Baccarat for dinner, we would have had very few visits during the early years." If toddlers are expected to behave as tiny adults, don't visit until the youngest is 5, she suggests.
A similar solution worked for Sheila Cooper of Plano, Texas, who got tired of chasing her son around a relative's house to keep him away from breakables. "Finally I just said, 'Neither of us has fun when we go there. We will come when he is older.'"
Sometimes grandparents need reminders of what's reasonable to expect, says a grandmother from Orchard Park. "I'm 75. When 2-year-olds are over, you have to move things out of the way, take precautions and close doors. The mother-in-law needs to learn an awful lot about how to be a grandmother."
A different view: "It will not kill you or your children for them to learn to sit still and display good manners for the duration of the visit to your in-laws," suggests one reader. "This is good practice for other outings."
A grandmother of an 18-month-old and 4-month-old in Dallas agrees: "Discipline is not punishment, but rather, training in acceptable behavior. My daughter-in-law watches her children very carefully and is teaching them restraint."
Here are some compromises that make for more relaxed visits:
Set aside a play space for the grandchildren to use, such as a good-sized corner of the family room, suggests a father from Troy. Add a comfy throw rug, a box of playthings and do some basic child-proofing.
Jane Stewart of Frisco, Texas, recalls built-in bookcases at her grandparents' home, where "lovelies" adorned the upper shelves, and block puzzles, wind-up toys, whistles and puppets were set up on kid-level shelves. "We were allowed to play with any toy, but had to put away anything we got out," she says.
Can you help?
"Q.: "My 2-year-old was dis-enrolled from his first day care, where classes were combined in the morning and evenings to cut down on salaries. He was biting kids during the transition times, mornings and just before pick up. He has been in another, more established day care for three weeks and has had fewer biting incidents. The dilemma: There's now an opening at another shiny new facility nearer our home. Should we move him again in two weeks just when his behavior seems to be improving?"
-- A mother in Dallas
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