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10 Things You Should Never Say to Grandkids

"Is that your boyfriend?" and other things better kept to yourself

By Denise Schipani | Grandparents.com | January 13, 2014

(This article appeared previously on Grandparents.com)

Every grandparent has the occasional “Oops!" But for the sake of your relationship with your grandchildren and their parents, maybe it's best to keep these 10 comments to yourself — and what to say instead.

1. “Your sister is better than you at [fill in the blank].” Maybe you’re trying to motivate one grandchild to try harder, but pointing out her sibling’s Serena Williams-style tennis serve isn’t going to push her to ace her own next serve, says Jodi R. R. Smith, author of The Etiquette Book: The Complete Guide to Modern Manners. Children want their grandparents to be judgment-free cheerleaders.
 
Better to say: If your grandchild asks if you think her sibling is better at, say, tennis, you can reply: “Yes, she’s good, so let her play tennis while you wow us with your swimming,” or whatever her forte is. If she doesn’t ask, keep mum unless you’re saying how proud you are of, well, whatever she does.

2. “You’re my favorite grandchild.” Huge oops. You may think you never say such a thing, but you might — in not so many words. Be careful of saying this line or something like it even if you mean it as a playful joke, or in confidence. Kids talk to each other and you want your grandchildren to trust you when you say you love them. 
 
Better to say: Do I have to tell you? “You’re all number one with me!”

(MORE: Avoid the Grandparent Trap)

3. "Let me tell you about the time your dad “borrowed” Grandpa’s car…" You may think sharing funny or stories of your children’s youthful mishaps is a great way to bond with your grandkids or a means of imparting a lesson. But Smith says it can have the unfortunate effect of undermining your children’s authority with their kids.
 
Better to say: Nothing at all about your children’s foibles unless, notes Smith, the parent is present so he or she is aware the story is being shared and can add perspective or it’s one of those stories you know your grandkids have heard before. “Better yet,” says Smith, “tell a story about your childhood if your aim is to teach a lesson.”

4. “If you get a tattoo, it’ll kill me!” Hmm … did that kind of blackmail work when you were raising your kids? Probably not, so best not to try it now. Do you really want your grandchild feeling guilty if, heaven forbid, something does happen to you?
 
Better to say: Whether it’s the tattoo or some other decision you believe your grandchild will regret (or that you don’t agree with0, try to talk to him or her about it. When it comes to permanent ink, you’re certainly in a good position to explain what “for the rest of your life” means!

5. “Is that nice boy you were talking to your boyfriend?” Ah, the awkwardness of adolescent dating, combined with sweet, but embarrassing questions from grownups — just what an already self-conscious kid needs. Curiosity on your part is natural, but try not to butt in unless asked.
 
Better to say: Nothing to your grandchild. If you have a question about someone she’s dating, ask her privately instead. And if you’re just interested in a budding love life? “Ask open-ended questions, such as ‘Has anyone caught your fancy lately?’” says Smith.

(MORE: 7 Ways to Be a Cool Grandparent)

6. “I think a little baby fat is cute!” Unless your grandchild has specifically asked for a critique on his or her physical appearance, do not initiate this conversation! What you think sounds cute and complimentary (after all, your grandchild is beautiful to you no matter what) can come across as a painful insult.
 
Better to say: What you truly believe: that she’s beautiful. “A grandparent’s role is to bolster confidence,” says Smith. And if you do think your grandchild is overweight? Without making a fuss about it, offer healthy snacks rather than junk at your house and suggest a walk in the park rather than watching a movie together.

7. “How come you don’t wear what I bought you?” If your grandchild has been as well-schooled by your children as you hope, she knows to open gifts with enthusiasm and to thank you politely. Much as you want to see her in that nice coat you bought (and not the scruffy jacket you still see her wearing), it won’t do your relationship any good to ask about it.
 
Better to say: Nothing. Next time, ask her parents what might be a better gift choice or give a gift card and let her pick out what she wants.

(MORE: Grandparents' Gifts That Keep On Giving)

8. “What do your parents say about me?” Digging for info? Whether you are dealing with a divorce situation (and want to know if your former son- or daughter-in-law is talking badly about you) or you just want to know what they think, swallow that impulse, says Rosalind Sedacca, author of How to Tell the Kids About the Divorce. What you’re doing is using the child as a go-between, which is an uncomfortable spot for a youngster.
 
Better to say: Nothing that can be construed as negative. Even if you are not getting along with your children/in-laws, or especially if a divorce is in the picture, keep all comments neutral and let your grandchild take the lead with sharing information.

9. “Did you get good grades this year?” What you don’t want to do is potentially — albeit inadvertently — put even more pressure on your grandchild, who may be getting the good-grade push from parents and teachers, too, says Julia Simens, parent educator and author of Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child. “It also might set up your grandchild to lie to you, because he doesn’t want you to see him in a negative light.”
 
Better to say: Ask him about his classes, his favorite subjects, which teacher is the coolest. Showing an interest can help him open up and tell you how he's feeling about school.

10. “Don't worry – you’ll grow out of this stage!” Whether it’s a messy middle school situation, acne or a heartbreak, your well-intentioned (and, incidentally true!) words are destined to fall flat, or even hurt. It may sound as though you’re making light of a situation that, to him, is as big as Texas.
 
Better to say: “Want to talk about it? Say, over an ice cream sundae?”