Signs Your Kids Have Toxic Grandparents and What You Can Do About It

Anyone can be toxic. Sometimes it’s hard to spot. We will make allowances for people. Especially older folks whose attitudes we make allowances for. If your parents or your partner’s parents offer outdated opinions, that’s one thing, but if they’re manipulative and controlling and they undermine either of you as parents, they are doing harm to your child’s mental health. You might not spot this behaviour if you grew up with them so let’s highlight the most important things to look for.

Interfere with your decisions

If the grandparents give your kids a few treats when you’ve said they shouldn’t have them, that’s fine. Grandparents are meant to spoil the kids. This strays into toxic behaviour when you expressly tell the old folks that your kids aren’t allowed treats and they hand out the chocolates anyway. Maybe the grandparents allow the kids a little more screen time. Again, that’s OK as long as they’re not deliberately undermining the decisions you make for the best of your children. A truly toxic grandparent will openly question you in front of the children. That sort of behaviour is disrespectful and may even point to a person who shouldn’t be involved in your life or that of your children.

Make you feel guilty

Do the old folks in your life make you feel guilty? If it’s persistent, they may be manipulating you to get what they want. If you or your partner experienced this sort of behaviour while you were growing up, it’s highly likely your kids will also face this. If you overhear any of the grandparents saying things like “I guess you don’t love me anymore” or “kiss me or I will cry” or anything along those lines, they’re manipulating your kids by making them feel guilty. That’s not the sort of behaviour anyone wants their kids to get used to.

Buying the love

Your kids should be spoilt. That’s something all grandparents do. They often have a lot more disposable cash than parents, and they love to spend it on the kids, but are they buying too many gifts? Are they getting the kid’s attention by taking them out shopping like a divorced dad who’s desperate to connect with his kids? Are they trying to outshine you when they buy the kids something you said they couldn’t have? That’s what you need to consider. This can be love, or it can be manipulative behaviour.

Playing favourites

As a parent, you realise you can’t favour one kid over the other. Sometimes it’s hard not to, but you have to make sure you treat them all equally. A toxic grandparent will focus on one of the kids and ignore the others. If it’s overt and they go as far as to compare the children with lines like “You’re not as smart as your brother” or “Your sister did better than you”, it doesn’t matter that they’re blood relations. You shouldn’t allow them to inflict their attitude on your kids.


Do the grandparents believe they’re entitled to see the kids whenever they like? They’re not inconsiderate if they appear at your door unannounced at dinner time. They’re toxic. They don’t have a right to see your kids whenever they like. They have to fit into your life. Do they make themselves available when you need childcare, or is it always on their terms? Consider when they want to see the kids and how they go about it, and you might conclude they’re toxic.

How to correct this behaviour

If you recognise any of these signs in your kid’s grandparents, you don’t need to shut them out of your life. Speak to them. Make them aware of how their behaviour affects your kids. You should also set clear boundaries. Do that while the kids are little. Always listen to their responses and try to work out the issue together. You may need to invite a third party to help this conversation go smoothly. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the problem and be careful not to overreact to it either.

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