Talking to My Brother About His Daughter's Behavior

Updated on April 02, 2014
J.W. asks from Grand Terrace, CA
10 answers

I am really at a loss. My niece has always been an extremely difficult child. Since she was an infant, family get-together have become a misery based on her frequent tantrums and anger issues. She is now seven years old and her behavior has not improved at all. When she was younger, she would scream, hit, bite, cry, anything to lash out at her mom, dad, grandparents, or cousins. As she has gotten older, she now throws her arms wildly about her head and grinds her teeth while making a growling noise when she gets angry. Sometimes she shakes uncontrollably while she is the throws of her angry outburst. Yesterday during a birthday party for my elderly father, she had a play bow-and-arrow set. She got mad at her uncle and threateningly pointed the arrow at him. This was after two other tantrums that she threw. The first was about wanting to play a game that other family members were already playing and the second was when we were preparing the cake for my father's birthday and she wanted to put on the candles.

My daughter is the same age, and based on the aggressive behavior, I no longer want my daughter to play with her or even be near her. My brother and his wife don't acknowledge that the behavior is outrageous and usually deal with it by giving in to what she wants, even if it's not fair to the other children. This is my only brother and I really don't know how to talk to him about it. I know that this kind of aggressive and threatening behavior is not normal at this age, but I don't have any idea how to talk to him about it. And, in the best interests of my niece, how do I suggest that they should talk to someone about her behavior?

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So What Happened?

According to my brother and sister-in-law, she does well in school, although it is difficult to believe that the behavior is limited to the home and does not manifest itself during school.

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answers from Wausau on

You stated that her parents don't see a problem, so they won't be receptive to anything you say as far as suggestions go.

As for something you can do, don't hesitate to step in when you're at family events. Just because they allow things to happen doesn't mean you have to sit quietly and do the same.

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answers from Kansas City on

I think you should MYOB. I'm not trying to be rude, but her outrageous behavior is not something that you have to tell them about, they already know it. Telling them what you think they should do, will only drive a wedge between you, IMO. I'm sure privately they are trying to figure it out. I think you should talk about it and give your opinion only if asked. If you don't want your daughter hanging out with her, then don't let her. If you can't take going to the family get togetherness, say you have something else planned. Eventually the talk will happen, when your brother starts it.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

I am not sure that talking to the parents will get the result you desire. They have to know how badly their daughter acts. At some point, you have to protect your own little family and not expose them to that. Eventually there will be questions and you should answer them truthfully but diplomatically. You do not want your kids around their daughter because of her behavior.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Has this girl never been disciplined or told no? I agree with the others... she could have some kind of emotional/mental issues and probably should be evaluated. As for her parents sitting back and allowing her to act like this, unfortunately there are those who don't set limits and let their kids do whatever they want because they hate confrontation or don't want to face problems.

Whether you should say something depends on your family though. Are you the type of family where everyone talks about anything openly, or the type where such things are not discussed? My guess is that if you talk to your brother, it won't go well, and his wife will resent and blame you as well. They will probably take it very personally and feel you are criticizing them despite your good intentions. Have you ever said anything directly to the girl, when she does something inappropriate?

It'd be best if this topic were brought up by a teacher, doctor or some professional outside the family. It's only a matter of time before someone does. Until then, I would keep my child far away.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

I think your best bet is an intervention of some sort with multiple family members. Talking with your brother on your own may be perceived as some sort of one-on-one attack. If more than one of you come to him as a group, then maybe it will help them see that this issue has reached beyond their nuclear family.

I don't think you need to make threats, like no longer inviting them to functions, and it's more important to express your concerns than to try and tell them what they're doing wrong.

It would be a good idea to actually write out notes, or even exactly what you want to say to get the wording right. Try it out on friends and see if they have wording suggestions. Gentle concern may help?

Bottom line though is that your concern and suggestions may fall on deaf ears and go without action. I think you will know when the time is right when you have decided that you cannot be around them at family functions any longer. Or when you're willing to be shunned by your brother because he's unwilling to listen.

You're in a tough spot! We have had similar issues with friends, but have been able to just stop spending time with them. Not so easy for you. Good luck to you!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Ah yes, I know this situation well. My husband's 12 yr old nephew has severe ADHD. When he was younger, he would act up at family parties and my SIL would ignore it, or give him what he wanted in order to keep him quiet. He would usually hurt my dd (overlooked by SIL) and would FREAK out if my dd even laid a pinky on him (not overlooked by SIL). It was extremely frustrating.

When he was 5, several us decided someone had to say something to her and her husband. They didn't take it very well. They had also been getting calls from his school suggesting he had autism, and they didn't take that well either. Their answer was to switch schools. They finally faced it, and took him to be evaluated. He was diagnosed with severe ADHD and put on medication. I still think it's more of a high functioning autism than ADHD, but I'm no doctor.

I think you should approach it as diplomatically as possible, and just let him know that you're concerned that this type of behavior doesn't seem normal for her age.

Good luckj

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

The other side of the coin is that they don't deal with it in front of other people because the behavior can escalate even more. I know there have been times in public that I won't discipline my dd (until we get home).
It does sound like she might have Asbergers or some other type of issue going on. I would limit my contact and stay out of it. I doubt you'll do anything but ruin your family relationships by saying something

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Albany on

This is one of those thorny issues between families that always causes problems. I'm sure they are concerned and embarrassed by her behavior, and it would have been nipped in the bud if she were my child. But it seems any time a well-meaning relative says something about a child's behavior, etc., it can result in bad feelings on the part of the parents of that child. I have heard that kind of criticism from relatives (particularly my brother) over my son's feminine interests/crossdressing/cross-gender behavior, and I admit that my nose did get out of joint a little bit. This seems to be an anger-management issue on the part of the child, and it seems likely that it could spill over into other areas of her life (school, etc.), so the parents must already be aware of it. The best you can do is grit your teeth, limit your family visits to holidays (that's pretty much what I do with my brother), and maybe limit your daughter's exposure to her cousin, until she shows improved behavior.



answers from Chicago on

I don't know your neice and have not seen the behavior first hand but it sounds like she has some issues. Has she been tested? The growling / shaking thing is a red flag for some mental disabilities. How does she do in school? any issues there? If it is just behavior then they need to do something before someone gets hurt. But if it is more she needs help.



answers from San Francisco on

Here's my take.

Kids WANT boundaries. If they don't get them, they push, and push, and push until someone puts up a boundary and doesn't let the child push past that point. So, perhaps she does behave at school where there are clear boundaries and certain consequences.

I would say to your brother that she is screaming for boundaries and for him and his wife to enforce those boundaries. That's where kids get their sense of security. They have/are robbing her of that sense of security and she is desperate for it.

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