Toxic Grandparent Checklist: 15 Signs That It’s Already a Problem

You might assume that grandparents, with their years of life experience and wisdom, would naturally assume a nurturing and positive role in a grandchild's life. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case.

Written by Olivia Paxton. Updated on Toxic Grandparent Checklist 15 Signs That It’s Already a Problem

You might assume that grandparents, with their years of life experience and wisdom, would naturally assume a nurturing and positive role in a grandchild’s life. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

Some grandparents become a source of tension, negativity, or even outright toxicity, disrupting the harmonious atmosphere of the family. Recognizing the signs of toxic behavior in grandparents is crucial to protect the mental and emotional health of everyone involved.

Toxicity in relationships can be subtle, manifesting in ways that might initially seem benign or simply the result of a ‘bad day.’ However, these patterns can cause deep-seated harm, especially when they persist over time.

This article will highlight 15 signs of a toxic grandparent and help you recognize when it’s becoming a problem. The information presented is based on trusted research and studies focusing on emotional and psychological well-being.

1. Excessive Criticism

A toxic grandparent may frequently criticize your actions, choices, or even your character. Whether it’s your parenting skills, your job, your lifestyle, or your friends, nothing seems good enough for them.

  • They find faults in minor things.
  • Their feedback rarely contains any positive or constructive elements.
  • Their criticism makes you feel inadequate or inferior.

Excessive criticism from grandparents may be rooted in their own insecurities or feelings of inadequacy. It can be a projection of their self-doubt onto others. They may also be overcompensating for their perceived failures in the past.

By pointing out faults in others, they may feel a temporary sense of superiority or control. They may not even realize the damaging effects their words can have on their grandchildren, or they may do it knowingly to make themselves feel better or more powerful.

1. Excessive Criticism
TarasMalyarevich via vistacreate

2. Manipulation and Control

Manipulation is a common tool for toxic grandparents. They might use guilt trips, emotional blackmail, or gaslighting to control your decisions and actions.

  • They twist facts to their advantage.
  • They try to control your behavior using emotional or financial leverage.
  • They don’t respect your boundaries

Manipulation is a way for toxic grandparents to gain power and control within the family dynamic. They may feel threatened by the changing family structure or struggle with feelings of loss of control, particularly as they age.

Emotional Manipulator Tactics and What They Say!Emotional Manipulator Tactics and What They Say!

Manipulative behaviors, such as guilt-tripping or gaslighting, can be a misguided attempt to maintain relevance and influence in the family2. They may not understand that this behavior is harmful, or they may justify it as necessary for maintaining order or respect within the family.

3. Emotional Unavailability

Toxic grandparents might be emotionally unavailable, unwilling, or unable to provide the emotional support that a grandchild might need.

  • They are indifferent to your feelings.
  • They seem disinterested in your life events or accomplishments.
  • They rarely show empathy or emotional understanding.

Emotional unavailability in grandparents could stem from various factors, including their own upbringing or past traumas. They might have grown up in an environment where emotions were not discussed openly, leading them to suppress their own feelings and struggle to empathize with others.

Mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, can also contribute to emotional unavailability. Additionally, some grandparents might consciously choose emotional distance as a means to exert control or protect themselves from potential emotional pain or vulnerability.

Comparison of Healthy vs. Toxic Grandparent Behaviors

Healthy Behaviors Toxic Behaviors
Shows unconditional love and support Gives love conditionally, based on their terms
Respects your personal boundaries Ignores or violates your boundaries
Provides constructive feedback Constantly criticizes you and your choices
Respects your parenting decisions Undermines your parenting decisions

4. Narcissistic Tendencies

Narcissism in grandparents can manifest as an excessive focus on their needs, wants, or feelings, often at the expense of others.

  • They always bring the conversation back to themselves.
  • They show a lack of empathy or understanding towards your feelings.
  • They constantly seek attention and validation.

Narcissism in grandparents can arise from various factors, including their upbringing, personality traits, and life experiences. Some may develop narcissistic tendencies as a defensive mechanism against feelings of insecurity or inadequacy.

The grandparent’s role in the family often changes as they age, and the sense of losing their influence and control can contribute to these tendencies.

They may use self-centered behavior to draw attention, seek validation, or maintain some semblance of control within the family1. It’s important to note that narcissism is a complex personality disorder that requires a professional diagnosis, and not all self-centered behaviors can be classified as narcissistic.

4. Narcissistic Tendencies
IgorVetushko via vistacreate

5. Negativity and Pessimism

Toxic grandparents can fill their family’s life with negativity, whether it’s their outlook, their language, or their attitude toward life.

  • They always point out the negative side of things.
  • They frequently complain about people or circumstances.
  • They rarely express gratitude or contentment.

Chronic negativity and pessimism can stem from a variety of factors, including mental health issues, unresolved past traumas, or general dissatisfaction with their own lives. Some grandparents might feel disenfranchised or disillusioned with the world around them, and this cynicism may taint their interactions with their family members.

It can also be a form of emotional manipulation, creating a cloud of negativity that can shift the family dynamic to their advantage or draw attention to themselves.

Comparison of Healthy vs. Toxic Grandparent Traits

Healthy Traits Toxic Traits
Positivity and optimism Constant negativity and pessimism
Empathy and understanding Narcissism and self-centrism
Emotional availability Emotional unavailability

6. Undermining Authority

Toxic grandparents often undermine the authority of the parents, disregarding their decisions and rules regarding the grandchild’s upbringing.

  • They openly criticize or question the parent’s decisions in front of the grandchild.
  • They disregard or intentionally violate the rules set by the parents.
  • They try to manipulate the grandchild against the parent’s authority.

Undermining parental authority can lead to confusion and disobedience in the grandchild. It disrupts the parent-child relationship and can create a sense of powerlessness and frustration for the parents.

6. Undermining Authority
HayDmitriy via vistacreate

7. Favoritism

Toxic grandparents may exhibit favoritism among their grandchildren, showing differential treatment and creating a divisive environment within the family.

  1. They show an obvious preference for one grandchild over others.
  2. They give more attention, gifts, or privileges to one grandchild.
  3. They openly compare and criticize other grandchildren in front of the favored grandchild.

Favoritism can cause jealousy, resentment, and low self-esteem in the grandchildren who feel excluded or less valued. It can strain relationships among siblings and create a sense of competition rather than love and support.

7. Favoritism
HayDmitriy via vistacreate

8. Boundary Violations

Toxic grandparents often disregard or violate personal boundaries, interfering in the grandchild’s personal life or the parents’ decisions without permission.

  • They invade personal space without consent.
  • They meddle in the grandchild’s personal relationships or decisions.
  • They disregard the parents’ boundaries regarding discipline or privacy.

Boundary violations can erode trust and create a sense of insecurity and discomfort for the grandchild and parents. It’s important to establish and maintain healthy boundaries to ensure respectful relationships within the family.

9. Lack of Respect for Privacy

Toxic grandparents may exhibit a lack of respect for privacy, prying into the personal lives of their grandchildren or the parents without permission.

  1. They ask intrusive and personal questions.
  2. They gossip or share private information about family members without consent.
  3. They invade privacy by going through personal belongings or documents.
3 things NOT to do when setting boundaries!3 things NOT to do when setting boundaries!

The lack of respect for privacy can create a breach of trust and a sense of vulnerability for the grandchild and parents. It’s essential to establish clear boundaries and communicate the importance of privacy within the family.

10. Emotional Blackmail

Toxic grandparents may resort to emotional blackmail as a means of control or manipulation, using guilt and emotional pressure to get their way.

  1. They manipulate the grandchild’s emotions to make them feel guilty.
  2. They threaten to withdraw love or affection unless certain demands are met.
  3. They use emotional manipulation to gain control over family decisions.

Emotional blackmail can create a toxic cycle of guilt and fear within the grandchild, leading to anxiety and a constant need to please the grandparent. It’s crucial to recognize these manipulative tactics and seek support in establishing healthier boundaries.

10. Emotional Blackmail
AllaSerebrina via vistacreate

11. Constant Comparison

Toxic grandparents have a tendency to constantly compare their grandchildren to others, creating an atmosphere of competition and feelings of inadequacy. They may compare:

  • achievements
  • appearance
  • behavior
  • other aspects of their grandchildren’s lives

Constant comparison can have detrimental effects on a grandchild’s self-esteem and self-worth.

  • It fosters an unhealthy sense of competition
  • It undermines the grandchild’s individuality
  • The grandchild may feel pressured to live up to unrealistic standards the grandparent sets

All these factors may lead to anxiety and a constant fear of judgment.It’s essential to recognize and address constant comparison, helping the grandchild understand that their worth is not defined by external comparisons but by their unique qualities and strengths. Encouraging a positive and supportive environment can help counteract the negative effects of constant comparison.

11. Constant Comparison
IgorVetushko via vistacreate

12. Lack of Empathy

Toxic grandparents may display a consistent lack of empathy towards their grandchildren’s feelings, experiences, or challenges.

  • They may dismiss or minimize the grandchild’s emotions
  • They may belittle their struggles
  • They may fail to provide support when needed

A lack of empathy can leave the grandchild feeling invalidated and emotionally unsupported. It can hinder the development of healthy emotional connections and the ability to express oneself authentically.

The grandchild may internalize the message that their emotions are not valid or important, leading to emotional suppression or difficulties in forming trusting relationships.

Addressing a lack of empathy involves open and honest communication, encouraging the grandparent to recognize and acknowledge the importance of empathy in fostering healthy relationships. It’s crucial to validate the grandchild’s emotions and promote an environment where emotional support is readily available.

13. Controlling Behavior

Toxic grandparents often exhibit controlling behavior, attempting to dictate or manipulate the actions, decisions, and lifestyles of their grandchildren and their parents.

They may impose their own expectations, preferences, or values onto the family, disregarding the autonomy and individuality of others. This control can manifest in various ways, such as making demands, disregarding boundaries, or attempting to undermine the authority of the parents.

13. Controlling Behavior
IgorVetushko via vistacreate

14. Lack of Respect for Boundaries

Toxic grandparents often display a lack of respect for personal boundaries, consistently crossing lines and intruding into the lives and decisions of their grandchildren and their parents.

  • They may disregard requests for privacy
  • Impose their opinions
  • Give unsolicited advice
  • Overstep boundaries regarding discipline or parenting decisions

This lack of respect for boundaries can lead to feelings of resentment, frustration, and a breakdown in trust within the family unit.

15. Shifting Responsibility for Their Emotions Onto Others

Toxic grandparents may sometimes (or often) shift responsibility for their emotions onto their adult children or grandchildren. This can be expressed through:

  • Blaming
  • Emotional manipulations
  • Gaslighting

This means grandparents are not emotionally mature enough, and they can’t withstand and control their own emotions. Instead of trying to take control over them, grandparents may try to shift this responsibility onto other relatives, making them feel guilty for what grandparents feel.

Note that the aim of this checklist isn’t to label or blame grandparents who may struggle with these issues. The purpose is to raise awareness about toxic behaviors that can cause significant harm to a family’s emotional and psychological well-being.

Recognizing these signs is the first step towards addressing the problem and seeking appropriate help.

It’s essential to approach this topic with sensitivity and empathy, understanding that people may not be aware of their toxic behaviors or their impacts. If you recognize any of these signs in your relationship with your grandparents, consider seeking advice from a mental health professional.

You can also explore resources like the ones provided by the American Psychological Association1 or the National Institute of Mental Health.


The role of grandparents in a family should be supportive, loving, and nurturing. Unfortunately, when toxic behaviors come into play, it can cause a rift in family relationships and lead to significant emotional distress. This article has outlined a comprehensive checklist of signs that may indicate a toxic grandparent.

If you recognize any of these signs in your own family, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. Remember, your mental health and emotional well-being are crucial and deserve attention.

Recognizing toxic behaviors is the first step toward creating a healthier, happier family environment.

IgorVetushko via vistacreate

Frequently Asked Questions

⭐What should I do if I suspect my grandparent is toxic?

If you suspect that your grandparent is displaying toxic behaviors, it's important to prioritize your own well-being and that of your family. Consider setting clear boundaries, communicating openly, and seeking support from a mental health professional or family counselor who can guide you through this challenging situation.

⭐Can toxic grandparents change their behavior?

It is possible for toxic grandparents to change their behavior, but it often requires a willingness to acknowledge their actions, seek help, and commit to personal growth. However, change can be challenging, and it's important to prioritize your own safety and well-being when deciding whether to maintain or distance yourself from the relationship.

⭐Should I confront my toxic grandparent about their behavior?

Confronting a toxic grandparent about their behavior can be difficult but may be necessary for establishing boundaries and fostering healthier family dynamics. Before doing so, prepare yourself by seeking support from a trusted friend, family member, or professional who can guide you through the process. Choose a calm and private setting for the conversation and express your concerns using "I" statements to avoid blame.

⭐How can I protect my child from a toxic grandparent's influence?

Protecting your child from a toxic grandparent's influence requires clear communication and boundaries. Establish rules and guidelines that prioritize your child's well-being, limit exposure to toxic behaviors, and provide alternative sources of support and positive role models. Consider seeking legal advice if necessary to ensure your child's safety and emotional well-being. Remember, your child's best interests should always be your top priority.

Written by
Olivia shares all she knows about the hotels, houses, and home cleaning with Beezzly readers. And she knows a lot! 15 years of work experience as a Manager in a former Four Season Service gave Olivia an exceptional base of professional knowledge and practical experience.
Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here.
Signs of Toxic GrandparentsSigns of Toxic Grandparents