Concerned About My Nephew

Updated on June 26, 2012
V.V. asks from Louisville, KY
25 answers

Ive written before, with questions about how to handle my 4.5 year old nephew's aggressive & bullying behavior towards my 2 year old. Things have been better, in some ways. I've discovered he's worse at his own house, so we try to meet on neutral territory. My sister is slightly better at reprimanding him for the *awful* things he says (like he hopes my child dies, etc). Baby steps, I thought.

Yesterday, though, something happened that makes me concerned about my nephew & whether or not he needs some help beyond what my sister can/will do.

At my parents house, nephew wanted to take a toy home. My mom said no; my dad said he could borrow it. Nephew stated he was going to keep the toy forever, to which my dad said he'd have to leave a toy behind, then. According to my parents, it was a very jovial atmosphere up until that point. But after my dad made that comment, my nephew went into what both of my parents called a "rage-gasm."

He started screaming incoherently, and then attacked my father, punching, kicking, and biting. My sister tried to talk to him, but that only made him punch harder (my poor dad has bruises all over his chest & abdomen), so then my sister started screaming at him, and eventually my sister & mom had to physically pull my nephew off my father. Sister took. Ephew home, after comforting him - no consequences for his behavior.

I know kiddos sometimes lash out when their emotions are overwhelming, but is this level of violence & aggression normal in a child his age?

I think nephew may need more intervention than what he gets from my sister; my parents and I talked about it & my mom wants to wait until he starts school. She said nephew will try this behavior at school & the school will address it with my sister. This seems unfair - for one thing, he doesn't start kindergarten for a year, so we're supposed to endure this behavior until then? For another, this approach puts other kiddos at risk. And nephew's preschool/daycare *did* attempt to address his behavior with my sister & her husband. Their response was to change schools ... and then say the previous school was causing the issue.

So my questions are: is this normal behavior for an almost 5 year old, and if it's not, how should I handle it? Or should I leave it alone and just hope he doesn't fly into a rage around me or my kiddo?

What can I do next?

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So What Happened?

Thanks, everyone, for all the great and thoughtful replies. As of right now, I haven't spoken to my sister, but I have spoken to my parents again.

I will not - and have not, since I wrote my last post about my nephew - left my kiddo alone with my nephew for this very reason. My husband predicted there would be a time that he would get out of control violent, and my husband's fear was that he'd end up stabbing our son with a knife or something. My husband was right, but the target was my dad.

My mom is in total denial of anything and everything - wait and see has ALWAYS been her approach. But my dad is concerned that things aren't great for my nephew at home. Apparently, my dad was at their house once to take an Xmas photo, and saw my sister totally lose her sh*t on my nephew, ending up calling him an a-hole. He was only 3 at the time. And my brother-in-law - the way he deals with tantrums is to isolate himself (not hte child) in another room, doing his own thing or to pick the child up and hold them very tightly, until they calm themselves down. My older nephew has stated repeatedly that he "hates" the way Daddy holds him.

My older nephew (who is almost 7) is very obviously favored in that household. So all of these things probably play into my younger nephew's issues. But that still leaves me with the question of what to do.

My sister does not believe in discipline or punishment. She doesn't think they work, and that problem-solving and identifying emotions and giving her kids the language they need to express those emotions is all they need to behave.

That thought process is so different from my own that I'm not even sure where to go with it.

I'm thinking I'll talk to my own therapist about this, see what she says, and then the next time my sister suggests a get together, have a talk with her at that point.

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answers from Santa Fe on

His mother needs to give him severe consequences any time he does something like that. And a strict talking to afterwards. His parents need to sit him down and tell him what behaviors are not acceptable and tell him that he will get x consequence (something that he will really not like) if it happens again. It sounds like his mom is not doing a good job parenting. He also needs to be made to apologize to his grandfather.

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answers from Dallas on

It's not totally abnormal for a kid to have a rage, and it doesn't make someone a bad parent because they happen. In a few years, your 2 yr old may do the same thing to you, even if you're an awesome parent. It sounds like your family made it much worse by handling it incorrectly except for the final comforting. He is reacting to his anger and showing a lack of impulse control. When a child is having this kind of rage, they cannot be reasoned with and can't really hear what is being said. When it is over, they feel scared at having been so out of control and afraid they are no longer loved. They need reassurance afterwards. When in this type of a rage, the best thing to do is:
- SILENTLY isolate the child somewhere where he cannot hurt himself and let him scream it out. Talking to a child in a rage will send him further into it and does nothing more than project your own anxiety onto the child which makes him insecure.
- Remove the audience. Sounds like your entire family watched the show, which only makes the tantrum worse. If everyone had scrambled and pretended he wasn't there and one person had taken him to a place where he could be ignored, it would've been much better.
- Remain calm and stable. Screaming at a child only adds to his insecurity and again sends him farther into the rage.
- Do not give into the original demand.
- Allow the child to calm. Once he's ready to return to normal, assure him that he is still loved and ask for an apology. It's ok to wait to have a deep discussion of feelings and restitution, as in that moment there is a lot of insecurity, fear at having been out of control and shame.

The rage described doesn't mean there's something hugely wrong with your nephew. He is having behavioral issues over impulse control and anger, and he was probably over-stimulated outside his home with so many adults, etc. My daughter -who is the sweetest, most compassionate and loving preschooler - has had rages very similar to your description, and I have had professional assistance as she has a special sitution with being post-orphanage. What I'm telling you is what the professionals have told me and is what has worked. Once it doesn't work for them and other effecdtive tools are given to them, the rages will substantially decline, becomer shorter and cease. My daughter did not and does not have these rages at home....they are at school or in a public where there is an audience or an adult who provides the reaction (talking, screaming) that fuels it. Moving schools also may be a very good thing for your nephew, as some schools are unwilling or unable to help work through this.

Here's what I'd tell you.... this is not unheard of, it doesn't mean your nephew isn't a great kid the vast majority of the time, and you don't live in his home to know what he's like there as you form your judgement of his parents and him. If you don't like the kid, don't spend more time than you have to with one wants their kid to be where he isn';t wanted. If he has a rage when around you without his parents, then do as I said above. If his parents are there, then you and your kiddo should leave the room quietly if his parent does not remover him. Beyond that, the most you should do is suggest that they may want to discuss his rages with their doctor to determine if he's sick (step throat, sinus infections and ear infections will cause a behavioral change like this per the pediatrician) or a play therapist. If their pediatrician thinks it's necesary, their pediatrician will make the referral.

Yes, he needs to learn skills that help him manage his anger and control his impulses. He needs boundaries and consequences, but not authoritarian discipline. He needs to learn about making good choices (and being rewarded for good choices every time...a 10:1 ratio on rewards vs discipline as he's learning is good....and a reward can be as simple as a big hug and praise) and needs help understanding emotions and others' feelings. Both the school and his parents should be working with him on that.

Google the term "anger overload" ...there's a doctor with a fabulous blog about that.

Update: I still say this is not abnormal, which I mean to be that it is not unheard of and/or meaning that the kid must have a major psychological issue or major psychologoical trauma. It is most likely a behavioral issue, and no one is in a position to diagnose or label it other than a professional. It's not normal for it to be a frequent everyday occurrence, but it is not outside the boundaries of being a "normal" child. (Yesteray at my daughter's school, one of her classmates had this same kind of rage; it does happen.)There are things that are trigger points to behaviors, and being around your daughter (with whom he seems to have jealousy issues with and who takes away attention from him) is quite possibly one of those triggers. For my daughter, triggers include being overtired (missing a rest period), being overhungry, jealousy, and/or being off of a normal routine/schedule. These are fairly common trigger points for kids and also things that are pretty easily managed.

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answers from Washington DC on

I"m so sorry for this kid. Apparently on some level, your sister believes this is normal; he will outgrow it; he's just too young to really understand his own rages; he will get it knocked out of him or "taught" out of him at school like your mom says.

And she's so wrong. This is abnormal. Please consider doing what someone else said and have an intervention. This has to be done with zero judgement in your voice BUT a firm intention to let her know that you are very worried. One point to bring up: What if the person her son attacked, bruised, bit and kicked -- to the point he had to be PULLED off them -- were not his grandad but another child? An adult who wasn't part of the family? If that had been the case, your sister would wake up to find Child Protective Services on her doorstep, quite possibly.

She needs a wake-up call to see that this is potentially a medical issue. The child needs serious evaluation, and it will be critical that SHE be honest with any doctors he sees. If she fudges on his real behaviors or denies his rages, she will only hurt him more in the long run. I would be very concerned that she and her husband have already been in denial about his having problems (since they blamed his old school, not him, for previous problems, and since they did not discipline him for attacking an adult). I would almost wager that dad figures it's "boys will be boys" and mom says "he's really a nice boy, he just isn't mature enough yet to handle his anger."

Offer to drive them to the doctor. Recommend that the doctor get them a referral to a child psychologist who specializes in anger issues in children. Whatever you do, write out a script! Because you have to be very careful what words you use with adults who are so in denial about their child having a problem -- they likely will get defensive and might even insult you and walk away because "you're attacking our baby!" So script it all out and edit your script so it does not blame him or them, but focuses on his behaviors. Again, I think it might help to point out that had their son done the same type of physical attack on someone not in the family, there would be consequences for the parents here.

Ask your own pediatrician for advice. He or she might have pamphlets or resources to give you for them.

Your mother, by the way, is so very wrong. Teachers today do NOT have time to spend on training a child like this! She does not understand that today's teachers have huge classes, and their jobs depend on getting good test scores out of those kids (yes, even at K level), and they are no longer in the business of teaching behavior to a child who is so out of control. They will instead tell the parents to get him help, and he will bear the label of "problem child" from the start. Your mom does not get this but your sister needs to, and now. She cannot wait a year until he starts K to "let them handle it." It is not their job and they will not do it.

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answers from St. Louis on

Is this normal? O' my NO! This is very sad. In my opinion, something needs to be done and quick! If he can physically hurt an adult at the age of 5, can you imagine what he will be able to do at the age of 15? If they do not find him the help he needs, she will be failing her child! The signs are all there and his mom and dad need to stop ignoring them. If they continue to do nothing, as hard as it would be, I would not allow your child to be alone with him under ANY circumstances!

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answers from San Francisco on

Your sister is going to let the SCHOOL deal with this? What a cop-out. She's got her head buried so far in the sand it's unbelievable. If my kid pulled that garbage she'd be flipped over my knee so fast her head would spin.

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answers from Boston on

For one thing, your dad needs to address your sister immediately. This child would not be coming to my house anytime soon unless there is a plan in place. He needs to be evaluated now. What if this was your toddler, he could cause major trauma to your child. Your dad has the perfect opportunity to bring this to your sisters attention now. What is everyone waiting for??? She is wrong and doing a disservice to her son by not getting him the help he needs and deserves.

And if I were you I would not leave my son anywhere near him , not even a minute alone.

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answers from Boston on

No, this is NOT normal behavior for a child his age. He could very well be acting this way due to a lack of discipline or something else may be going on .... behavioral issues that need to be addressed by a professional. Or a combination of the both! I'm appalled that your family's solution is to "wait for school to deal with him". If your sister does that his education will be hindered because his teachers/school will be focused on trying to get him to behave properly and he will miss out on the things he actual needs to start learning. I don't have any great advice on how to approach this with your family, but if there is a way for you to try to convince your sister that this needs to be addressed NOW before he starts school that would be ideal. Otherwise, he will (unfortunately) get labeled at school as a "problem child" and he will suffer for many years. Entering school should be a positive experience where he learns properly, advances socially, and learns to follow directions/instructions from authority figures (i.e. teachers oppossed to parents/family members). I hope this can be worked out for your nephews sake.

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answers from Washington DC on

i think you know the answer. of course that's not normal, and of course you shouldn't 'just hope.' of course this child is not going to change his behavior because his parents have no boundaries.
but it's not for you to do.
if your sister refuses to parent him, your only option is to keep your child away from him.
your parents are grown ups. it's a very hard choice for them, but you can't choose for them either. if they continue to endure this kind of treatment from a 5 year old, they can expect to have more bruises and rage-gasms (great term!)
or they can choose not to be around this little fellow either.
i hope his parents decide to start creating an atmosphere of positive discipline for this boy. but if they don't, all you can do is choose how you will handle it.

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answers from Austin on

It will be interesting to find out if this is a lack of parental care or if there is actually something to do with your nephew.

It will be a shame either way, but to not have parented a child enough, is neglect. They are just avoiding it at this point.

Your sister and her husband should have tried to figure this out when the preschool spoke with them.

No one wants to hear there may be a problem with our child,but when this happens, for the good of our child we do need to at least consider what we have been told.

Hang in there and always keep an eye on him when your son is around him. He still needs to be told what the expectations of behaviors are. Your parents sound like they are doing a good job. But your sister is avoiding this situation..

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answers from Omaha on

No that is not normal behavior, but it sounds like it is a lack of boundaries/ consequences on the part of the parents. It seems to me your nephew was overstimulated or over tired and he decided to test the boundaries with your parents. When his mom tried to intervene, it only escalated the problem since he obviously doesn't view her as a stable disciplinarian. Your sister resorting to screaming at him just made the situation even more tense because she was then out of control of the situation herself. My guess is if your sister and her husband buckled down and learned some consistent discipline strategies to help this child, the majority of his aggressive behavior would be eliminated. Until that happens, I would not allow him to be around my children.
I suggest the books by Jim Fay called Parenting with Love and Logic. There are also excellent workshops parents can attend to learn the strategies from the book. Go to for more information.
You can also look into strategies called BIST (behavior intervention support team). These are strategies teachers employ in the classroom when we encounter students that exhibit this kind of behavior. Go to for more information. is an organization and school that developed the bist strategy. They work with severely behavior-disordered students to manage their feelings and outbursts in a socially acceptable way. You may want to contact one of the counselors there to discuss your nephew's behavior. They may offer some guidance for you. Good luck!

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answers from New York on

Totally not normal and it does not seem like soley an issue with parenting. It sounds like there might be something emotionally going on with your nephew. He needs to see a specialist because kids don't "grow out" of this level of violence.

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answers from Boca Raton on

No . . . that doesn't sound like normal behavior to me. I would wonder about developmental delays, ODD, PANDAS and certain mental health conditions.

That being said, he's not your child and there's not much you can do. I'd hate to do it but I'd avoid them until my sister and her husband start to deal in reality. They are not doing their son any favors.

I say this as someone who is VERY against labeling children. But when a kid needs help he needs help.

Good luck.

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answers from Chicago on

I think I said this before, you need to do some research on Oppulant Defiance Disorder and see if that matches up with your nephew - it could also be ADHD or BiPolar (very simmilar symptoms at this age) and bring the info to your sister. Honestly, beyond that the only thing you can do is if she refuses to seek help, let her know that you are not going to subject your family (hubs/kids/yourself) to his behaivor. It will suck for a while, yes it may mean not attending family get totegethers, but she will get the point and you will not be subjected to his issues. This child CAN be helped, he just has to have parents strong enough to take this first step.

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answers from Denver on

I think when he said he hopes he sees your child die is when he needed to be seen by a therapist! This really does not seem normal. It could be because your sister never gives him any consequences but even then his behavior seems extreme! I am sorry to hear this. Maybe you and your parents could put on a united front and try and talk to your sister about your nephew's behavior.

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answers from Columbus on

It's normal for a child who has no consequences. She's not doing him any favors -- she's setting him up to fail socially and academically. Whether or not this is purely behavioral or a chemical imbalance of some sort needs to be determined by professionals. But there's no need to pursue that until measures are taken in the home, first.

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answers from Washington DC on

I am a mom to 4 and 9 year olds. I don't think it's normal at all. Not even occasionally. However, I don't necessarily think it is some disorder requiring medical intervention. It could jus t be a kid who has been spoiled or has never had consequences or had high expectations set for him.

As to whether to leave it alone? Well, only you know how it would be perceived by his parents if you said something, but I am guessing not well. May have a better shot coming from your parents. The truth is that you need to have a united front, and tell them this won't be tolerated and they need to step up. But in most cases, they will take major offense, even if they know at some level that they need help. So you have to balence having a productive and positive relationship, or possibly alienating them. As for the school? Yes, they will deal with it. But maybe not in a positive or helpful way. Schools are busy. Not dumping grounds for problem kids. And do they really want him labeled a problem kid in kindergarten. That's a great stigma to carry into school. Alternatively, and especially if it is a parenting issue, he may be a complete angel for his teachers. And still terrorize the family.

Regardless of all that, you better get your wits and come up with a game plan for what you expect in your house or with your child. Your child deserves peace everywhere, but especially in her home or with her family. You need to be willing to draw the line. "Bobby, there is no throwing/yelling/hitting in this house. You will have to leave if you do that again." Consequences, clear language, consistency are what kids need and crave. If he isn't getting that at home, he will love you (eventually) for requiring it of him. And good heavens, please don't use his parents as a role model. They are going to hav e along road ahead of him. Even most toddlers don't act like this, and it won't get better on it's own.

Now, in the rare case that he has some medical psychological disability that needs intervention - the worst thing you can do is be over-indulgent. The same rules apply. No "Poor Bobby needs our help." He needs love - AND consistent consequences. Poor kid, indeed. Can you imagine not feeling at peace when you are only 4?

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answers from Cleveland on

Not normal. This child sounds like he has major anger problems. Add to that the fact that his parents don't sound like they understand discipline and this kid is in trouble. He NEEDS an intervention or he is going to be a completely out of control child.
Just taking a wait and see approach is not going to help. His behavior will just keep getting worse and worse the longer he is allowed to behave this way. Besides, if he could leave his own grandfather covered in bruises, what might he do to a child at his daycare or kindergarten when he gets there? If he is this angry, he could seriously hurt someone else. He needs help NOW. He needs to be evaluated by a pediatrician, and his parents need to learn how to instill respect and boundaries in their son.
Unfortunately, you are not his mom. You can't control what your sister does, but you need to have a talk with her, and I would suggest that talk includes letting her know that your little one will not be playing with her son until he is at least evaluated. You need to protect your child.

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answers from Columbia on

Sounds like a lack of parenting.

All YOU can do is get your sister a book.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Hmmm....hard to say. We weren't there (neither were you) and we didn't see what happened.

O. thing strikes me: I think EVERYONE needs to be on board with rules. This O. says "no," this O. says "yes," this O. says nothing, then conditions are placed on the decision.

Establish the rules (Ex. No O. takes toys home from Grandma's house) and make sure EVERYONE understands the rules and obeys them.

Your sister will not be able to run from this issue forever. Some parents take longer to see/accept ANY type of issues, but it will be revealed to her eventually. Might be painful to watch, but I'd stay out of it.
Keep your own kid(s) on track & safe.

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answers from New York on

No it is not normal behavior, and your sister needs a family intervention... You and your folks need to sit her down and explain to her that his actions are not acccpetable and none of you want to be around him if he is going to act like that. Then give her the name of a good counselor for them both to see.

She needs to accept the fact he is her responsibility and if she does not do anything in another couple years he could be beating her up,,,

Sorry you have to deal with this.... I will say a prayer for your whole family

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answers from Jacksonville on

I think Anita B gave some fabulous advice. In the context presented though, I think that "No, it is NOT normal" is the proper answer. It is not Abnormal for kids who have some sort of trauma. Does your nephew have some sort of trauma in his history?

My niece (who is 6 now) has rages like you describe. She was asked to leave an after school program for attacking a teacher when she was 5. She also was adopted and has FAS. For a "normal" child, it is NOT normal for him to rage to the extent he is--physically attacking your father. For a child with other issues, it MAY be part of "normal" FOR THEM.

The behavior/responses Anita gave are right on. These are the same types of responses my SIL uses.

I would never leave my 2 year old beyond a step or two away from me with this boy. Who knows when he will rage and seriously injure a small child. And I agree with the posters who say there is no way they should "wait for him to start school so the school can" deal with it. It will only complicate his school years for the rest of his life, because he will start out behind due to his anger/rage issues, and then on top of missing what he should/could be learning, he will also be labeled, and even when he gets his behavior under control, he will still deal with the fall-out from the label.

ETA: I also wanted to mention that, taken alone, the tantrum could be just that-- a kid that is out of control and isn't receiving the proper guidance from parents to GET it under control... but when you put it together with your previous post about this same child saying he wishes your son would die... well, that sort of changes things, to me. That wasn't a one-off comment. He said as much many times to you, correct? And about others, presumably, since his mother said he is "better" with other kids, now, and admitted this wasn't just an issue with your son. So, when you put that together with the beyond control tantrums where he isn't just laying on the floor flailing, but actively attacking his grandfather... that takes it to the next level. The death wishes, I am pretty sure, are not normal. That doesn't seem to me like "typical" thought processes. I don't recall my kids EVER wishing anyone or any THING would "just die". But, I am no psychologist...

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answers from Chicago on

I agree with Angela S. below. I read a few responses saying that it sounds like lack of boundaries on behalf of the parent.......this is much more than that. Not that the parents don't need boundaries, but it sounds like this is far beyond strict discipline/boundaries/etc.

I am concerned about the 'wait and see approach' - my husband has this approach to our son. I won't get into full details but my son has had behavioral/developmental issues and started intervention before the age of two - had I not been the advocate I have no idea where my son would be today.

That being said, unfortunately, you are not the parent - you can talk and talk to your sister as much as possible but you cannot make her get her child help = I pray she does though. I guess the best you can do is tell her how much you love her and her son and don't want to see them miss out on an opportunity for help......

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answers from Los Angeles on

I actually don't think it's THAT weird that he melted down over the toy. At that age their emotions are very close to the surface. My daughter (age 5)had a meltdown yesterday when I told her we didn't have time to play outside before bath. She had been stuboorn about dinner and didn't eat anything, so I attribute the meltdown to being hungry as well (she takes after dad, must eat or they turn into bears). Anyway, occasionally small things seem like the end of the world to her and prompt a giant cry-fest.

What I think is abnormal is that your nephews parents didn't intervene immediately and put him on a time out in the car or something. I mean as soon as a kid starts swinging fists, kicking, or throwing punches, I think you should remove them from the setting and isolate isolate him/her on a time out somewhere. You don't "try to talk" to a kid who is in that state of tantrum. I don't know a kid who can be talked out of it when they are that far into a meltdown.

I think other kids actually do act this way at that age but most parents put in check immediately. Your nephew just doesn't know the limits because his parents haven't shown him.

ETA: Just read Anita B's advice- spot-on. And 8kidsdad... kinda agree with him too. I mean, you gotta hand it to him, he was able to take 6 kids to the grocery store at once every week because he had them in line so well... He musta done something right ;)

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answers from Dallas on

From what I have read here there are no consequences to his actions to he knows it's ok. But to me that is not normal or acceptable behavior for a child. To me it would be wrong to let him keep going till he starts school this needs to stop now. If he put bruises on your dad and the kid needs comforted. NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sounds like your sister needs a reality check and if I were your dad I would tell your sister not to bring him back until she has gotten him help!!!

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answers from Charlotte on

I'm late seeing your question, Angie. This is a horrible situation.

Your mom couldn't be more wrong. Does he have to stab another kindergartner with a pencil before she gets her head out of the sand?

To be honest, I would call social services about the issue. Beg them to visit the home and talk to the parents. Maybe that will scare them badly enough to make them accept some help.

As far as dad holding him is concerned, the question is whether or not he is holding him too tightly. To be honest, this approach is recommended by some professionals for a child who rages. But they have to be small enough and the adult big enough. AND the adult has to be strong enough so that the child can't head butt the parent's face and break their nose or teeth...

The way it is supposed to be done is for the adult's back to be up against a wall on the floor with the adult's legs on top of the child's so he can't kick, arms wrapped around the child's arms so that he can't hit, tight enough so that he can't bite, and lower than the face. (The bigger the kid gets, the less able the parent is able to do it unless they are taller.) Then while holding the child (with the child's back to his or her chest, facing AWAY, the parent whispers softly, "It's okay, it's okay" over and over.

I'd like to give the father the benefit of the doubt that he's doing it like this, instead of squashing your nephew, even if the child doesn't like it. Regardless of the approach, I'm not one bit surprised that he would complain - he wants what he wants, including to hit, kick, bite and punch. Dad holding him like this prevents all of that.

If they don't get some help, what will happen is that the child will not be able to be mainstreamed because he will cause physical harm to another child or attack his teacher. Then they'll move him to a behavioral problem school somewhere else in the district, along with kids like him.

Please consider calling social services. Your mother is of no help whatsoever; someone needs to call in the calvary!!


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