Advice on a Tough Situation

Updated on September 06, 2011
A.I. asks from White Plains, NY
15 answers

I am at a loss as to how to handle my relationship with my sister and her 5 year old daughter. The problem is that her daughter is very aggressive, mean, hyper and just an overall hard child to be with. She talks with a terrible potty mouth, she targets smaller children (mine since she was a baby) she hisses at us and licks us, grabs things from people, screams for no reason and has no respect for adults, especially her mother. She is absolutely exhausting to say the least. My parents and I feel as well as many others that her behavior is odd and she needs to be evaluated. Instead, her mother makes excuses all the time. First it was that she is young and will outgrow it to now she just tells my daughter or others things like "she didn't mean to grab, hit, scratch whatever you were just too close" my sister has to hover over her at play places so she won't go near or bother any babies or toddlers. We couldn't have any peaceful holidays or gatherings due to her behavior until now because of the horrible behavior. My daughter now just puts up with it but always wants to know why she is so mean or why she doesn't get in trouble. If anyone says anything to my sister it turns into a battle. I'm frightened as to what type of teenager we will be dealing with. I'm sorry to get longwinded but I just want to see how you mamas would handle this situation. I have scaled back play dates tomprettybmuch nothing. I feel I need to shield my daughter at this point and protect her. Although deep down I have sympathy for my sister because of what she puts up with. Ugh

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So What Happened?

Sorry for the typos on my blackberry
Add: yes to single mom and starts kindergarten this week
@Karen I get what you are saying. My daughter has mild SPD. She is overly emotional and has physical and motor planning challenge herself. Most of my nieces behaviour is without a doubt deliberate and she does get delight in hurting others so although she may have some sensory issues I bieve there is something more going on even if it it severe SPD her mother still needs to wake up.

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answers from Kansas City on

Just shaking my head. You can't force her to see the light. You are doing the right thing staying away. Hopefully, the school system will be able to help her. It usually goes over better when the information comes from outsiders anyway.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Has she started Kindergarten yet?
Because if she acts like that at school, your sister will be told there is an "issue" from someone she will perceive as unbiased and highly trained, right?

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answers from Seattle on

This is not normal behavior. This is also not behavior that is caused by poor parenting. It is unlikely that your sister's parenting skills or lack thereof caused this behavior. Something is wrong and this child needs help.

Your sister is in denial and feeling defensive. It's a pretty normal reaction. People who are finding out their child has unusual challenges go through a grieving process. She needs to be able to move through that grief process to be able to get her child the help she needs.

What can you do to help? First, stop describing the child's behavior as "horrible, aggressive, and mean". Your sister says her child "didn't mean were just too close." She may be right. Kids with sensory issues often have no idea where their body ends. They may careen off other people without noticing, or lash out until they hit something to find out where their arms are. This kind of behavior can look aggressive, but it's not. Look at her eyes. Truly aggressive kids get a gleam of delight when they hurt someone. They look over the group to find opportunities to cause harm. Their movements are planned and deliberate. None of this sounds like your niece.

Your niece is probably not "horrible, aggressive and mean". Your niece is probably lonely, scared, confused, and frustrated. And so is her mom.

As a place to start, I'd suggest reading "The Out-Of-Sync Child." If you see something that looks familiar, give it to your sister with love and compassion. *Do not* try and diagnose your niece. Just share the book as a resource, as something that might help.

Good luck.

Okay, if your daughter has SPD problems you've got a conversational opening. (And your sister is definitely in denial). Talk to your sister about the problems you've dealt with with your child. If necessary, exaggerate slightly. Talk to her about the resources that have helped. Ask her to keep a lookout for anything that could possibly help you. Try to set up a relationship of parents helping each other. Accept graciously any resources or advice she can pass along to you (even if it's useless). Do anything you can to make her comfortable with the idea of getting assessments and accepting help, using yourself as an example.

And in the meantime, feel free to set boundaries to keep yourself and your daughter safe. Express it as your inadequacy. "I'm so sorry, I just don't feel like I've got the skills to keep (niece) safe and happy. If you find any resources that could help me, please let me know. I so want to be able to include her. Please also let me know what any doctors or teachers have to say. I would really appreciate advice." With any luck you can nudge her into getting her child to a specialist in order to give *you* advice.

As a teacher, I've dealt with parents in serious denial. All you can really do is be loving and patient and supportive and nonjudgmental. And did I mention patient? She'll figure it out eventually. Just make sure she doesn't have to face too many "I told you so" conversations when she finally does acknowledge there's a serious problem.

A triple dose of good luck to you.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Orlando on

That sounds just like my son! And yes I am a good parent he does have boundaries and rules. He gets in trouble if he does hit spit or hiss. My son has ADHD and early onset bipolar disorder. I'm not saying your niece is either but I would try to get your sister to listen that it's not normal and if it is something serious she should get her treated early. Since my son has started his meds for the bipolar he is a different child! Not in a zombie way either he is happy, which before he would get so mad and become violent then cry because he didn't know why. The behaviors you described are not normal and she needs to see that. Sometimes it has nothing to do with discipline or as one said her not wanting to be a parent, she may not know what to do, I know how that feels I felt the same way with my son! So I would sit her down as her sister and just tell her you love her and her daughter, you want to help them and you feel it's in her best interrest to seek help.

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answers from Dallas on

I know this will sound relaly stupid, but does she eat very much sugar? If she does, and if the mom doesn't discipline very well, I could see this being the result. It could be more than that, but sometimes parents let their kids run wild and/or feed them inappropriately which causes them to not be able to control their behavior very well. (I, for one, cannot have much sugar because it makes me a little wild and crazy...not in a good way!)

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answers from Kansas City on

My sister and nephew just moved in with us. They have lived with my mom for his entire life. My sister doesn't know how to discipline...sometimes paretns don't discipline due to laziness, lack of knowledge, lack of something.

Take over! At first I was worried my sister would think I was hovering. In the end she has started to adopt the rules. It's been a very long four weeks. But he is now going to bed on his own, at the same time as my kids. He understands that back talk is no aloud and if you do there will be consequences for his actions.

Your niece will be labled as a bully if things don't chage and quick.

Aloud = allowed...holy cow can't believe I did that! :)

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answers from Redding on

Shy away. And when your sister finally asks, let her know how you really feel.
Is your sister a single mom? Sounds like classic "single mom feeling too guilty to discipline" syndrome. When your daughter gets a few years older she'll be able to handle her herself, or maybe she already can...... If your daughter seems to be managing her cousin fairly well, you might just leave it be. When she asks why her cousin doesnt get in trouble for certain things just let her know that Aunt so and so doesnt follow the same rules that you do.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Yikes, I'd keep my distance too for the sake of my own child. I think you need to be honest with your sister about your reason for avoiding them. Her daughter's behavior is not right and you won't put up it or subject your daughter to it until she starts getting the help she needs. Just ask your sister to start with her pediatrician. Your sister is in denial. The more people who are straight with her, the more likely she is to decide to seek some help. Hopefully, like others have said, she will be hearing the same advice from the school system soon, and that will also have an impact.

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answers from New York on

I feel bad for you that is tough. I agree with seeing if you can help your sister face the situation for what it is, and also to possibly see if there is a holistic and natural approach to it as a first step. ie a full nutritiional evaluation. Does she sleep enough? Eat protein and get good exercise daily? Eat too much sugar and drink sugary juices? Watch a ton of tv? So many possible causes - such as cutting tv and sugar and putting her on a way healthier diet, doing long walks every day.
But meantime, protect your kid.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Hahaha! Ditto Denise P.! In kindergarten, your sister will be informed of her daughter's behavioral problems. (Hopefully)

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answers from Austin on

ADHD.. But she needs to be evaluated. Your sister is not doing her child any favors by making excuses.
I guess it really should be your parents to speak with her. Have them google ADHD, I am positive these behaviors will be listed very clearly.

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answers from Charlotte on


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answers from New York on

One can hope that once she begins school, your sister will listen when teachers, psychologist, school counselor, etc. tell her that this is not normal behavior and when your niece gets in trouble every day, your sister will opt to do something about it. Sure, it could be a behavioral disorder of some sort. However, if your sister doesn't correct her behavior, establish discipline and consequences, your niece may simply be a badly behaved child with no motivation to improve. If she gets physical with or is mean to your daughter, it's appropriate for you to tell her this is not acceptable if her mother will not do it. It may also help to have an "intervention" where the entire family approaches your sister(without niece being present) with your concerns about your niece . I think you have made a good decision to limit playdates and if your sister asks why, I would be honest and not accept any excuses for the behavior. Good luck.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I know exactly what your going through, but I'm my case is worst. My Sister & her whole family are the same way. My Sister takes everything as a joke & my Brother in law would seriously bit my Nephew if my Sister would allow Him. Is just sad to see how my Sister is racing her Kids. My Son & Nephew are the same age & have always got along pretty good, but now that they are 11yrs old things have gottan worst that I honestly don't like my Son around him. If I buy my Son something or if he even likes something that he likes, My Nephew starts telling everyone that he is just copying Him. Is just so fustrating. Sorry for using your post to vent:)

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answers from Dallas on

Wow. Hisses and licks huh! That's crazy! Your sister knows something needs to be done and she knows it but either it embarrasses her so much she would just rather not deal with it or doesn't know where to start. I would suggest counseling or anger management or something
I think its out of yalls control. Your sis needs to learn some techniques in dealing with the behavior too. Till something was done I would just not have play dates and/ or see them holidays or whatever. That makes it tough on everybody. Im sorry and I hope it gets better!

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