Niece Is Disrespectful and Doesn't Listen

Updated on September 30, 2009
A.C. asks from Franklin Park, IL
5 answers

I have a problem moms. My husband's family is very close and we all have dinner together once a week; this includes his parents, his two sisters, and all our kids-ages 8, 3, and two 1yr olds. Lately, I'm been having issues with his oldest sister's 8yr old daughter. Mom is single, had her young, and works long hours, so the girl is a bit attention starved. She is also very high energy with no outlet for it. The grandparents watch her after school and she usually just watches tv during that time.
The problem is that by the time we arrive for dinner, she is completely wired. She runs into the room screaming for my daughter (which of course scares her). She will then pick her up and try to run through the house with her, despite me repeatedly telling her that it is NOT ok. She will try to lift her over her shoulders too. She teases the little ones, just to make them cry, for example stealing their toys or making faces at them. She speaks disrespectfully to the adults, and I tell her that she cannot talk to me the way she talks to her friends. But she doesn't listen to me, or anyone really. Her mom seems to either not hear it or just chooses not to deal. Occasionally she will just yell at her very loudly to stop, but she doesn't really talk to her about what she is doing and why it's bad. I guess that is the root of the problem, mom doesn't pay attention to her unless she is misbehaving. I can't make my sister-in-law step up but don't want to ignore the situation either.
So first question is this- Am I wrong to expect better behavior? I feel like she is too old for this nonsense and that she knows EXACTLY what she is doing.
Also- what do I do about it? If she tries to carry my daughter, I step in and physically separate them, but she just tries it again later. And her with other behaviors she just ignores me. It really bothers me that her mother doesn't do more, but I can't make her be a parent. I don't want to add to the fire, but I don't know what to do. The fact that my pregnant hormones are raging doesn't help; I'm really afraid that I might just backhand the child soon! (To be clear- I don't think hitting kids is a good idea, but I'm afraid I might snap.) I've stayed home with my daughter the past two weeks and told my husband that we might have to skip family dinners entirely if this doesn't improve, because I don't think I deserve this treatment and certainly don't want my daughter picking up these behaviors!
Any advice?

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answers from Chicago on

Wow, that sounds like not only an annoying situation, but one that is potentially dangerous to the two toddlers in the house. You are not wrong to expect the 8-year old to respect you and your child. She sounds like a handful.

A couple of thoughts...(and you may have already considered this!)

Ask your husband to have a conversation with his sister, the mother of the child, explaining that the 8-year old has been told repeatedly not to roughhouse with the babies and that he is concerned for their safety.

Arrive late, eat quickly, go home.

Keep your baby in your arms the whole time- which would be nearly impossible for a toddler to handle, especially if there are other kids around. But, if you only stay for 45 minutes, this might be a viable solution. If someone asks, just say that you are worried with all of the commotion that the baby will get knocked over.

Your husband goes to dinner, you stay home with the baby. He can let the adults know the reason. He can have a conversation with the 8-year old, saying "Auntie worries that you will hurt our baby because you are so rough with her and you have not listened when Auntie asks you to stop." Then, have your husband and the 8-year old come up with a plan for how to manage herself around the babies. After a few weeks of practice, if she can manage herself around the other two cousins, perhaps return for another try.

If it was me and I was pregnant as you are, I would pick the stay-home option until things settle down.

Good luck!!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

She sounds very excited to see your daughter. The way you describe her... "attention starved, doesn't have an outlet for her high energy, etc..."is not your problem, it is your sister-in-laws problem. Bad attention is still some kind of attention for an attention starved kids. What DO YOU allow her to do with your daughter? Sounds like the only time she gets with her is at a "once a week" dinner and it may be the highlight of her week.

Do you bring toys that she can use, to play, with your daughter? Have you taught her how to play with your daughter? Does she know how to carry your daughter? It seems like she's hearing a lot of "NO, DON'T DO THIS!"

Don't get me wrong, there does sound like some bad behavior going on. If she is endangering your daughter in any way (i.e. running with her...), then you immediately get the mom involved. However, It's not your place to yell and scold another person's child, in the presence of their parent. You're making a lot of excuses about your sister-in-law. "Age" does not make a good or bad mom. However, you need to get her involved (and nicely!) if this bad behavior is happening in her presence and affects your daughter.

As far as her "talking disrespectfully" to you... I never tolerate disrespectful talking. It is not your place to cure her of talking disrespectfully to everyone, especially, if the mom is present. However, being an example and using good manners yourself, speaks volumes. Kids recognize that. There are ways you can stop her from talking disrespectfully to you: Just stop her, and say "I want to hear what you have to say, so when you (i.e. stop yelling, ask nicely, etc....") I really want to help." Then walk away. The other one that I use, frequently, when I am serving lunch to my children's friends is... Even if THEY don't say "Thank You", I will still say "You're welcome". Inevitably, you will either have that ONE KID in the group, who will say, "But... I DIDN'T SAY THANK YOU' , then you respond, "But, I STILL have to be polite".. or you will have a group of kids being gracious and you, in turn, will say, " I am AMAZED at how polite this group is!" Works like a charm.

By the way... where is your husband when all this is going on? He seems to take a back seat to all this chaos. If your husband's family is "close" as you described, why not see if she is different if she visits at YOUR home?

Skip dinner, if you are so tired of this or, better yet, let your husband and daughter go, without you, for a time or two. But, always remember, when your daughter becomes older, there will be times, she will humble you too.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I feel your pain. I really do. Only the person who acts like your 8 yr old niece is my husband's 42 yr old sister. She screams when she sees the kids and says, "I'm going to gobble you up!" Last year, she was holding two of my daughters in such a way that their heads collided. Blood, cries, you name it. I took my SIL aside and gave her hell. That wasn't the first time.

I really like the idea of your husband speaking directly to his niece. That as her Uncle, he feels like he needs to talk to her about respect, boundaries and keeping our hands to ourselves.

Good luck!



answers from Chicago on

I would give thanks I get to go home after dinner!

Can your husband talk with his parents about it? They are her caretakers after school, so they should have some authority with her, and she is misbehaving in their house (and they are his parents, not yours, so it's easier for him to bring up.) It puts any other adults in an awkward situation if the parent and the owners of the house act like nothing's going on. At the least, she should keep hands off the younger kids, period, if she can't be trusted to behave appropriately.

What really needs to happen is for the mom and grandparents to realize there's a problem and get the poor kid some help to manage her energy and impulses. As a parent of a kid with ADHD, I know how hard it can be for the kids and their parents. NOT that you should have to put up with the behavior you describe, but your niece is going to have a hard time of it if this goes on - I hope you will be able to look past the behavior and try to see the young woman she can grow into if given the right opportunity.
Good luck to all of you!



answers from Chicago on

Why don't you try giving this girl some much needed, special attention? Sounds like she's not getting much from her mother and could use some other female role models in her life. Your daughter will survive. You should lighten up a bit. I think you're correct... pregnancy hormones are a killer! And ultimately if you just cannot deal, then skip the dinners. Why make yourself miserable? But I would think that the way to turn the whole thing around would be to get everyone more into giving this girl the attention and love and nurturing that an 8 year old girl deserves. What is she into? What does she like at school? What activities is she into? I think making it more positive and more about HER will change the energy at these dinners and help her to become a better adjusted child. Also, maybe her mother will pick up on your cues! You can't just run around telling her NO all the time... that definitely won't change any behaviors or help her to mature... she's doing these things to get attention : ) Good luck!