7 Signs of Toxic Grandparents

Grandparents are typically seen as loving and caring figures in our lives, offering us much needed wisdom and guidance. Unfortunately, however, this is not always the case and there are some instances where grandparents may exhibit behaviors that can be detrimental to their grandchild’s development. In this post, we will discuss the 7 signs of toxic grandparents and how to deal with them effectively.

7 Signs of Toxic Grandparents – (1) Controlling Behaviour

Toxic grandparents often demonstrate controlling behaviour, trying to maintain a degree of power and authority over their grandchild’s life.

This can take many forms such as telling them what to do and how to behave, limiting interaction with other family members or friends, or making decisions on behalf of the child without consulting them.

They may also become angry or aggressive if their instructions are not followed.

The following are some examples of controlling behavior that you must look out for.

Unreasonable Expectations

Toxic grandparents may have unrealistic expectations of their grandchild and put pressure on them to meet those expectations, often without considering whether or not the grandchild is capable and ready to do so.

Making Unilateral Decisions

A toxic grandparent might refuse to hear out what a grandchild has to say and instead make unilateral decisions with no regard for the opinion of their grandchild.

Unwillingness To Accept Criticism or Advice From Others

Toxic grandparents may reject any advice given by others when it comes to parenting a child, locking themselves into an inflexible mindset and creating an environment where open discussion and growth is discouraged.


7 Signs of Toxic Grandparents – (2) Refusal to Accept Boundaries

Toxic grandparents may try to push the boundaries of what is acceptable behavior to get their own way or manipulate their grandchild into doing something they don’t want to do.

The following are examples of this problematic behavior.

Refusing to Respect Privacy

Toxic grandparents may attempt to invade their grandchild’s privacy by trying to access their personal belongings without permission or going through their messages, emails and other private information.

Saying No Respectfully Means Nothing

A toxic grandparent may not respect when their grandchild says “no” and make it seem as if it wasn’t worth saying no in the first place by overriding their wishes.

say no

Ignoring Wishes for Space

Whether it’s needing space from a conversation or needing some alone time away from family obligations, toxic grandparents may ignore these requests for space and continue on with what they were doing before as if nothing was said at all.

Interrupting Important Conversations

This includes interrupting important conversations, disregarding the opinion of someone else just because it isn’t theirs, or simply shouting over both parties involved in an argument until one party gives up and walks away.

Unwillingness To Apologize For Wrongdoings

A refusal by a toxic grandparent to accept boundaries could also look like an unwillingness to apologize for any hurtful words or deeds that they have done towards the child, regardless of how much justification they think they have for what they did and said.

Forcing Grandchildren Into Uncomfortable Situations

A final example of refusal to accept boundaries would include forcing a grandchild into uncomfortable situations such as going on vacations or outings when they don’t want to go, making them hug or kiss relatives or friends even if they don’t feel comfortable with them and refusing to acknowledge any “no” that comes from the child’s mouth.

narcissistic grandparent

7 Signs of Toxic Grandparents – (3) Manipulative Behavior

Toxic grandparents often attempt to manipulate their grandchild’s feelings and behavior. They may use emotional blackmail, guilt tripping, or gaslighting to get the grandchild to do what they want.

The following are some examples of how toxic grandparents can wield manipulation as a weapon.


Toxic grandparents will use guilt or shame to manipulate their grandchild’s decisions and behaviors.

This could look like reminding them of past wrongs, exaggerating their unhappiness with the grandchild, or making them feel guilty for not spending enough time with them.

blame-shifting and guilt-tripping


Instead of taking responsibility for their own actions, toxic grandparents may try to shift blame onto the grandchild when things don’t go as they planned.


This is a form of manipulation where a toxic grandparent attempts to make their grandchild question their own thoughts, feelings, or experiences by denying or distorting reality.

narcissistic gaslighting


Toxic grandparents might use threats in order to get what they want from their grandchildren such as threatening not to visit if something isn’t done as they wish it to be done.

Passive Aggressive Behavior

Toxic behavior can also take on a passive aggressive form with subtle comments intended to make the grandchild feel bad about themselves or belittle them for having different beliefs than that of the toxic grandparent.

7 signs of toxic grandparents

7 Signs of Toxic Grandparents – (4) Lack of Empathy

Toxic grandparents often demonstrate a lack of empathy towards their grandchild and their feelings. They may not take into account the grandchild’s emotional state or show concern for them.

The following are some examples of how a lack of empathy might manifest in their behavior towards their grandchildren.

Refusing to Listen

Toxic grandparents may not take the time to listen to their grandchild’s feelings and experiences, or try to minimize or invalidate them.

Not Taking Interest in Hobbies and Interests

Lack of interest in a grandchild’s interests can be seen as lack of empathy, as they fail to understand why certain activities, hobbies and interests are important to their grandchild.

Unsupportive Behavior

A toxic grandparent might not be supportive or encouraging towards the goals and aspirations of their grandchild, telling them that they’re dreaming too big or need more realistic expectations of themselves and life.

hurt grandchild

Refusing To Celebrate Achievements

Toxic grandparents may be quick to put down any accomplishments made by their grandchildren, whether big or small, refusing to acknowledge even the smallest of achievements and successes by making comments such as “It’s not that impressive” or “It doesn’t really count”.

Withholding Love & Approval

Perhaps one of the most damaging things a toxic grandparent can do is withhold love and approval from the grandchild when something isn’t done exactly as they would like it to be done, making the grandchild feel inadequate no matter how hard they try.

Invalidating Feelings & Experiences

Toxic grandparents may invalidate how the grandchild feels about certain situations instead of showing understanding and compassion towards what they are going through.

narcissist grandmother

7 Signs of Toxic Grandparents – (5) Favoritism

Toxic grandparents may show favoritism toward one grandchild over the others by giving them preferential treatment, such as more attention, presents, or other types of rewards.

They may also belittle or berate certain grandchildren in order to make them feel inferior or unworthy compared to their favored grandchild.

Singling Out One Grandchild

A toxic grandparent may single out one grandchild from the bunch and show them preferential treatment over the others, making it seem like they are more valued than their siblings or cousins.

Showing Favoritism in Gifts and Support

They may also show favoritism by giving one child more gifts than the other or offering more financial support for activities and interests that pertain only to them, while not offering similar opportunities to the rest of the family.


Ignoring Rules For The Favorites

Toxic grandparents may ignore rules that are in place for everyone else in order to give special treatment to their favorite grandchild, making them feel as though they can get away with anything since they know Grandma or Grandpa will always be there for them no matter what happens.

Making Comparisons To Other Relatives

A toxic grandparent might compare different relatives against each other, often setting unreasonable expectations for some members of the family while allowing others to get away with anything without consequences because they’re “the golden child” in their eyes.

Introducing Divide & Conquer Tactics

Toxic grandparents might use divide-and-conquer tactics by playing different relatives off each other and using favoritism as a way of keeping certain family members in line while isolating others who don’t agree with them or don’t fit into what they want from their family dynamic.

7 signs of toxic grandparents

7 Signs of Toxic Grandparents – (6) Neglect

Toxic grandparents may neglect their grandchild in various ways, such as refusing to answer phone calls or emails, not showing up for important life events and activities, or ignoring the grandchild for long periods of time.

Not Listening to Grandchildren’s Concerns

A toxic grandparent may be unwilling or unable to listen to their grandchild’s concerns, doing things like dismissing them as unimportant or simply not hearing what they have to say at all.

Refusing To Encourage Growth

Toxic grandparents may refuse to show any kind of encouragement when it comes to their grandchildren’s growth and development, leaving them without a pillar of support and someone who can push them towards success in life.

Not Being Involved in Grandchildren’s Life

Toxic grandparents might choose not to become involved in their grandchild’s life, either physically or emotionally, creating an atmosphere where the grandchild feels unloved and unwanted.

sad child

Ignoring Core Emotional Needs

Toxic grandparents may also ignore a grandchild’s core emotional needs such as attention, acceptance, and love – leading them to feel isolated and neglected by those that should be closest to them.

Making Excuses For Lack of Attendance

A toxic grandparent might make excuses for why they won’t attend important events in a grandchild’s life such as birthday parties, graduations or award ceremonies – furthering the feeling of neglect from the point of view of the child.

Putting Other Responsibilities Before Interaction With Grandchildren

A toxic grandparent might prioritize other responsibilities over spending quality time with their grandchildren, often resulting in them always putting off interaction with their young relatives until “later” which never really comes due to other obligations taking precedent over actually being present for their children’s children

toxic grandparents

7 Signs of Toxic Grandparents – (7) Unreasonable Expectations

Toxic grandparents may place unrealistic expectations or demands on their grandchild.

This could include expectations to achieve certain milestones in a certain timeframe, or imposing rules and regulations that the grandchild must follow without compromise.

These expectations can be impossible to meet, leaving the grandchild feeling frustrated, inadequate, and anxious.

Unrealistic Academic Expectations

Toxic grandparents may have unrealistic expectations when it comes to their grandchildren’s academic success, pushing for perfect grades and immediate mastery of certain topics without allowing for any mistakes or learning curves along the way.

Pressuring Grandchildren To Succeed In A Certain Way

Toxic grandparents may pressure grandchildren into succeeding in a certain way, whether that be in terms of their future career path or how much money they make once they reach adulthood – leaving the grandchild feeling like they’re constantly being judged no matter what they do or accomplish.

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Making Comparisons Between Grandchildren

Toxic grandparents often compare different grandchildren. This could involve comparing grades and setting up an unhealthy competition between siblings or cousins, creating tension in the family.

Setting Unreasonable Standards For Social Interaction & Behavior

Toxic grandparents might set unreasonable standards for social interaction and behavior from their grandchildren as well – making it so that children feel as though there is something wrong with them if they don’t act perfectly according to what is expected from them by these older relatives in their lives.

angry old woman

How to Protect Your Children from Their Toxic Grandparents

Toxic grandparents can have a negative impact on your child’s emotional health and well-being, so it is important to take proactive steps to protect your children from their toxic behavior.

The following are some effective strategies for shielding your child from the damaging effects of a toxic grandparent-child relationship.

Set Boundaries

Be clear about the boundaries that you are imposing, such as topics of conversation or behaviour around your children.

Communicate these boundaries directly and clearly to the grandparents, so they understand what is acceptable and what is not when interacting with your children.


Limit Interactions

If you think it may be beneficial to limit interactions with toxic grandparents, do not feel obligated to spend as much time with them or involve them in as many activities if it could be damaging for your children to be exposed to toxic behaviour.

Offer Loving Support

If your children have been exposed to toxic behaviour from their grandparents, provide a safe, non-judgemental environment for them to talk about their feelings and express themselves without fear of being judged or criticised by their grandparents.

Provide guidance and reassurance that you will always love and support them no matter what happens.

Remain Neutral

It is important for parents not to take sides when dealing with toxic grandparenting issues, as this can further complicate an already difficult situation for both the child and the grandparent involved.

When communicating with the grandparents, remain neutral and do not give in to emotional manipulation tactics such as guilt-tripping or blaming behavior that they may use in order to get you on their side.

Seek professional help

Seeking professional advice from a qualified therapist or counsellor may be beneficial if the relationship between your child and his or her grandparents has become too strained due to toxic behavior.

A professional can help both parties come up with strategies on how best to navigate this difficult situation going forward while protecting your child’s emotional health at all times.

toxic grandparents

Final Thoughts on the 7 Signs of Toxic Grandparents

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that all relationships come with their own unique challenges and toxic grandparents are no exception.

While it is impossible to completely control or protect your child from their unhealthy behaviors, being aware of the signs of toxicity in grandparent-child relationships can help you identify any potential issues and take steps to address them before they become too damaging for your child.

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Frequently Asked Questions About The Signs of Toxic Grandparents

What are the signs of toxic grandparents?

Toxic grandparents may exhibit behaviors such as manipulation, overly critical or judgmental attitudes, lack of respect for boundaries, favoritism among grandchildren, and emotional abuse or neglect.

How can you tell if a grandparent is manipulative?

Manipulative grandparents may use guilt trips, emotional blackmail, or play the victim to get their way. They might use affection or gifts as a bargaining tool, or create divisions among family members to maintain control.

Can a grandparent’s favoritism be toxic?

Yes, favoritism can be toxic when it leads to feelings of worthlessness or rejection in the less favored grandchildren. It can create divisions among siblings and cousins, leading to long-term emotional damage.

What does it mean when a grandparent doesn’t respect boundaries?

When a grandparent doesn’t respect boundaries, they may interfere with parenting decisions, disregard rules set by parents, or intrude on personal space and privacy. This lack of respect can create tension and conflict within the family.

How do you deal with a toxic grandparent?

Dealing with a toxic grandparent may involve setting firm boundaries, limiting contact, seeking professional help such as therapy or counseling, and ensuring the child’s well-being and safety are prioritized.

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