Read the riot act to this uncle

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 20, 2012 06:00 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

[Letter has been condensed by BFM]
Hi Barbara,

My question is about how to handle my brother-in-law who is so incredibly over-stimulating/shows poor judgement when interacting with my toddler son (almost 3 years old).

We don't see my brother-in-law frequently, but when we do, his interactions with my son include repeated forced tickling, throwing/dropping my son, and other physical play that he thinks is funny but is bordering on abuse in my/my husband's opinions.

... In the past, I have intervened and told my brother-in-law to stop, as has my sister (his wife) and my mother. My brother-in-law will only briefly stop, but whatever he does next will be equally objectionable.

My son is a very sociable, resilient kid. And these play sessions tend to involve lots of shrieking, laughing, and screaming on my son's part, which I am assuming my brother-in-law thinks means he is having fun. But after my BIL leaves, my son is SO over-stimulated, and he usually has a giant melt-down/tantrum which is just painful to watch. Sometimes my son will tell my brother-in-law to stop what he is doing, but he usually will only listen if an adult tells him to stop.

My brother-in-law shows very poor judgement in general, even with adults. As a result of this, he has been the cause of repeated minor injuries to himself/other people and property damage. Adults are frequently asking him to stop inappropriate behaviors, and he has trouble listening to adults as well.

It has gotten so that my husband and I can barely stand to be around my brother-in-law, due to his behavior with our son. Any suggestions for how to handle this?

Thank you so much in advance!

From: Over-stimulated in Hamilton (state not included)


Dear Over-stimulated,

As a parent, your #1 job is to keep your child healthy and safe. Teach your son that he is in charge of his own body and if anyone -- including a relative, or Uncle X (by name) -- plays in a way he doesn't like, he can ask them to stop. If they don't, he can stop playing, leave the room or yell for help, all without being rude. Role play this with him. Not only will that help him understand the coping skills in a concrete way, but it will also give you a window into his feelings about the interactions.

I would certainly never permit your brother-in-law to be alone with your son, not even for a few minutes. Among other things, it sounds like he has problems with impulse control. I would also tell him that you expect him to stop whatever he's doing when his nephew -- your son -- or an adult tells him to. Lastly, I'd put him on warning that if he can't be with and follow these rules, he will no longer be welcome to be with your son, whatever that means.
Your son also needs to see you remind Uncle about these rules in his presence; he needs to know -- your son, that is -- that you take seriously the job of protecting him.

It's not easy to read the riot act to a relative. I don't see that you have any other choice.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

4 comments so far...
  1. I see a child who loves his uncle, loves playing with him, and is upset when he leaves. If this was really over the line I think you'd know it and you would already know how to respond, you wouldn't have to write in for advice. I say keep a close watch, but this should be the worst problem you ever have.

    Posted by geocool March 20, 12 11:11 AM
  1. "Bordering on abuse"?

    Could people stop throwing that word around to try to take the moral high ground in parenting? The first one to call something abuse, wins.

    The word "abuse" should be limited to cases of willful infliction of pain or injury, not someone being slightly obtuse and playing too roughly for the age of the kid. Uncle doesn't sound mean, he sounds overactive and klutzy. Yes, someone will write in to say that tickling is abuse or torture or whatever, but someone always does.

    Of course there is a legitimate concern that Uncle gets carried away and doesn't understand what Junior can and can't do, and Junior may get hurt, and Uncle needs to tone it down. I also pick up either a bit of territorial vibe here--he's MY kid so it will be MY way--or maybe Dad got the short end of the family-wrestling stick as a kid and has a chip on his shoulder about it.

    Posted by di March 20, 12 01:37 PM
  1. Please - 'Dad got the short end of the wrestling-stick"? OK, this is the writer's SISTER's husband. so the Writer's husband isn't related to the uncle/brother-in-law. And the mother presumably loves her sister or this wouldn't be an issue - if the writer and her sister didn't enjoy each other, they wouldn't be together, so the sister's husband wouldn't be around...

    I think the answer Barbara gave is on the money. NO, you shouldn't have to read an adult relative the riot act, but this guy doesn't seem to be able to figure things out from being asked repeatedly to stop things. And he gets into trouble with adults, and sometimes there's property damage? Fabulous.

    I'd do exactly what Barbara says, including the very explicit conversation with the son that it's his body and he needs to say stop, it's NOT rude, and he is to yell "help, help" if he needs it. But he is NOT to do this if he is having fun, because that's wrong. And role play, because if you just tell a 3 yr old what to do he won't remember it later. so you practice - your son does something you don't like, and you say "help, I need help, stop!" and he stops (or your husband comes in and stops/gives help, even better). Then you have your son wrestle too hard and have your son get help... and so it goes.

    This is, frankly, a good skill for playing with other children - things can get too far and someone gets hurt, and it's good to be able to say stop and mean it.

    I'm not going to comment on whether it's abuse, but it is not appropriate playing if the child cannot handle it while it's happening and also after it stops.

    Posted by Cassandra Hostetler March 20, 12 10:51 PM
  1. di - when I read the words "repeated forced tickling," I physically felt myself react. I am someone who is extremely ticklish, and believe me, even if there is laughter, it is involuntary and this IS abuse. As a child, I recall several occasions where I had punch and/or kick my way away from abusive ticklers who would not stop. This kid is only 3, so he probably isn't physically able to get himself out of this situation, which I'm sure the adult thinks is fun for everyone.
    Barbara's advice is spot on. Mom needs to take control of the situation, lay down the law and stick to it. She shouldn't have to deal with BIL this way, but unfortunately, she has to.

    Posted by Mary March 22, 12 02:20 PM
 
4 comments so far...
  1. I see a child who loves his uncle, loves playing with him, and is upset when he leaves. If this was really over the line I think you'd know it and you would already know how to respond, you wouldn't have to write in for advice. I say keep a close watch, but this should be the worst problem you ever have.

    Posted by geocool March 20, 12 11:11 AM
  1. "Bordering on abuse"?

    Could people stop throwing that word around to try to take the moral high ground in parenting? The first one to call something abuse, wins.

    The word "abuse" should be limited to cases of willful infliction of pain or injury, not someone being slightly obtuse and playing too roughly for the age of the kid. Uncle doesn't sound mean, he sounds overactive and klutzy. Yes, someone will write in to say that tickling is abuse or torture or whatever, but someone always does.

    Of course there is a legitimate concern that Uncle gets carried away and doesn't understand what Junior can and can't do, and Junior may get hurt, and Uncle needs to tone it down. I also pick up either a bit of territorial vibe here--he's MY kid so it will be MY way--or maybe Dad got the short end of the family-wrestling stick as a kid and has a chip on his shoulder about it.

    Posted by di March 20, 12 01:37 PM
  1. Please - 'Dad got the short end of the wrestling-stick"? OK, this is the writer's SISTER's husband. so the Writer's husband isn't related to the uncle/brother-in-law. And the mother presumably loves her sister or this wouldn't be an issue - if the writer and her sister didn't enjoy each other, they wouldn't be together, so the sister's husband wouldn't be around...

    I think the answer Barbara gave is on the money. NO, you shouldn't have to read an adult relative the riot act, but this guy doesn't seem to be able to figure things out from being asked repeatedly to stop things. And he gets into trouble with adults, and sometimes there's property damage? Fabulous.

    I'd do exactly what Barbara says, including the very explicit conversation with the son that it's his body and he needs to say stop, it's NOT rude, and he is to yell "help, help" if he needs it. But he is NOT to do this if he is having fun, because that's wrong. And role play, because if you just tell a 3 yr old what to do he won't remember it later. so you practice - your son does something you don't like, and you say "help, I need help, stop!" and he stops (or your husband comes in and stops/gives help, even better). Then you have your son wrestle too hard and have your son get help... and so it goes.

    This is, frankly, a good skill for playing with other children - things can get too far and someone gets hurt, and it's good to be able to say stop and mean it.

    I'm not going to comment on whether it's abuse, but it is not appropriate playing if the child cannot handle it while it's happening and also after it stops.

    Posted by Cassandra Hostetler March 20, 12 10:51 PM
  1. di - when I read the words "repeated forced tickling," I physically felt myself react. I am someone who is extremely ticklish, and believe me, even if there is laughter, it is involuntary and this IS abuse. As a child, I recall several occasions where I had punch and/or kick my way away from abusive ticklers who would not stop. This kid is only 3, so he probably isn't physically able to get himself out of this situation, which I'm sure the adult thinks is fun for everyone.
    Barbara's advice is spot on. Mom needs to take control of the situation, lay down the law and stick to it. She shouldn't have to deal with BIL this way, but unfortunately, she has to.

    Posted by Mary March 22, 12 02:20 PM
add your comment
Required
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag


Ask Barbara a question

Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at) gmail.com.
Please include your name and hometown.

Child in Mind

Moms
All parenting discussions
Discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Child in Mind

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed


click here to subscribe to
Child Caring

archives