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I'm a 21 year old college student living with my girlfriend, her mother, and her mother's boyfriend. We've lived here, on and off, between my house and hers for the past 5 years. I don't consider this to be my house, but her room, at the very least is my only private space in the house.

Recently, (around a year ago) her sister's ex-husband and their son moved into the house. It's an incredibly weird situation, but my grandmother likes having the time around her grandson. I've never really had an issue with him in the past, as he's relatively young, but he is a bit of a brat and likes to get things his way.

As of late, she's been spending more time out of the house, and so there are periods of time where I'm alone in her room, and for whatever reason, her nephew (the aforementioned grandson) likes to come in. I try to keep him out, but there's no door (the room is the attic), and he has a habit of helping himself to my things. I don't really have a problem with that, but he's not very considerate with them, and his favorite word right now (he's 6) is no. Particularly when you tell him not to do something.

I have a good temper. I don't yell at people, and my preferred method of conflict resolution is talking it out. But he's not a particularly talkative six year old, and as anyone with a young child probably knows, he's not one to be reasoned with. He's very fond of punching people and doing what he wants, despite our best efforts, so he's not always an easy kid to deal with. For the most part, he respects my boundaries if I'm firm with them.

Today, however, I told him, "I'm very busy with homework and I need you to go downstairs." He was playing with a little writing tablet I use for doing math, drawing on it a little violently, but I figure he's a kid so I let him do it. When I asked him, he said "No." I said "$Name, please go downstairs." "No.", this time more insistently, "$Name, go downstairs now." "No."

At this point I was very frustrated with him, so I looked him in the eyes like I was very serious and firmly said, "Go. downstairs." And he stuck his tongue out at me, threw my writing pad on the ground and said, "NO." So I grabbed the back of his shirt, got down on his level and said, "Now." And he got a scared look in his eye and ran downstairs.

I don't want to have to do that. To be honest, it made me feel a little sick treating a kid like that, but I didn't know what else to do. His grandmother, his father, and my girlfriend don't take anything he does seriously. If I asked my girlfriend to make him go downstairs so I can work, she'll do it, and he mostly listens to her, but everyone else just laughs it off.

Normally in this kind of situation, I'd go to speaking with an authority figure in his life, but his father is never home to discipline him, and his grandmother is the kind of person who solves interpersonal conflicts with screaming and anger.

Obviously the answer in the long-term is to get a better living situation, but until I finish college and get a full-time job, that's not exactly on the table. I just want to know what I can do in the future to try and alleviate that kind of situation without having to be mean about it. Another concern is, today I was afraid I'd be in trouble with his grandmother for speaking to him in that manner -- luckily nothing came of it -- but he has a habit of crying wolf and I don't want anyone thinking I'm physically abusing him. I really really would prefer not to have to do anything of the sort, I just want to be able to get alone time when I want it.

Thanks for making it through the wall of text if you've made it this far. Open to any comments, criticism, or advice.

  • 2
    I recommend checking in with the folks at https://parenting.stackexchange.com/ as well. My guess is that part of the problem is that the child is seeking attention --- in that case, even negative attention (scolding, carrying him out of the room) will reinforce the bad behavior. If you rely on frightening him, you'll need to escalate it each time as he gets accustomed to your reactions, which will quickly get out of control (it sounds like you're already uncomfortable with how far it got this time). – Rose Hartman Feb 3 '18 at 18:19
26

Like it or not you are an authority figure in the kid's life. You all live together, and you're more or less an uncle at this point. Well, perhaps I should specify that you're a secondary authority figure...

I think you handled the situation appropriately. You set a hard boundary and enforced it without losing your cool. Perhaps you were a bit stern, but it sounds like that's what the situation called for.

Honestly 6 is a bit old for the sort of "No" thing you're describing, in my experience most kids go through that phase between 2 and 4. By six they should have already started school and learned some basic "play nice and get along with others" at the very least school aged kids usually know not to shout at adults and throw things.

I would recommend living into your "uncle" roll. It sounds like you're going to be an adult in the kid's life for the foreseeable future, so setting and enforcing rules and boundaries is a pretty reasonable thing to do.

I would recommend talking it over with the other adults in the house, but don't be afraid to assert your boundaries. If you live there your boundaries should be respected, it's just a matter of who's going to enforce them. Allowing a six year old to run wild shouldn't be an option.

  • I agree with what's written here, but it sounds like the suggestion is basically "talk to the other adults to get them to control this child's behavior", which OP has said isn't an option (with the exception of the girlfriend, who is frequently not around to help) – Rose Hartman Feb 3 '18 at 18:22
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    @RoseHartman Actually it's more recommending that he step up and act like an authority figure, and inform the other adults in the house that he's doing it. If they have a problem with that plan, they need to step up so that he doesn't have to. – apaul Feb 3 '18 at 18:48
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    I spoke with my girlfriend today and we agreed that he's probably looking for attention because his father's not around a lot. I guess I'll have to get used to playing the role of quasi-uncle. – Tyg13 Feb 3 '18 at 22:09
16

Kids and dogs have one thing in common - if they don't know who is in charge, they think it's them.

This kid obviously is not used to someone being the alpha in the house. You need to assert this role with this kid, and do so quickly. Otherwise he will not respect you and will walk over you. There's no need to engage in physical discipline with him, but if he's in your room, he needs to understand that your requests are there to be followed and followed quickly, not negotiated with.

I would have handled this somewhat differently. At the first "no" to leave, I would have carried him out and told him "when I ask you to leave, I am not going to ask you twice." Do this a couple times, and he will understand that you are in charge and to be respected. You will most likely have to repeat this several times until he understands this - we parents have learned that lesson the hard way. Discipline is not about punishment - it is about exerting your authority as an adult and helping the child to realize that they have a role in an adult-child relationship. Discipline, well done, teaches children how to behave as adults in an adult world. And that is the job for us as adults to do around children.

You can spend time with him and enjoy the time together. He may be mad at you initially for asserting yourself. But kids don't stay mad forever and you can have a very productive relationship once proper boundaries are established. I suspect that he comes in because he wants an adult male to interact with. You can do that and have a productive relationship - he needs to know when it's appropriate for you to do things together. So figure out how to show him when it's appropriate to approach you, and have fun with him.

WRT grandma: let her know what's going to happen. Gently explain that you are not going to accept his disobeying your requests, and will enforce them if you need to. If she knows ahead of time, she will respond better than a sudden "uncle Tyg13 threw me out of his room".

  • +1 for not getting angry or arguing but simply carrying him. I have read some child psychology books and this was their suggested method, your description of probably needing to calmly repeat a couple times is spot on too – Jesse Feb 3 '18 at 12:51
  • Won't the kid just come back 100 times in the room, especially if he enjoys being picked up? The OP said there is no door. – Ovi Feb 3 '18 at 12:58
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    @Ovi That's a good question! First of all, it's embarrassing for a kid to be carried against his will when he's somewhere he's not supposed to be. So the odds of him liking this are low. But if it becomes obvious that he wants to be carried, that indicates a couple of things. First of all, it indicates a need for adult male attention. OP can solve that a different way. It also indicates a lack of boundaries and a desire to be difficult. If he wants to be carried, then grab his arm and walk (or even drag) him out. The point is to make it neither play nor fun for the kid. – baldPrussian Feb 3 '18 at 14:17
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    @Ovi don't carry him in the normal fun way (face towards you, legs around your body, your arms behind his back and butt), do it in a less fun way (hands in his armpits, arms-length away from you, dangling there) – user3316 Feb 3 '18 at 16:37
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    I say in the long term, you need to become someone the kid can trust and respect. If in your free time you do things with him that he enjoys, and generally act as a positive influence on him, he will respect you, not out of fear, but because he will not want hurt his relationship with you by being a pest – TallChuck Feb 3 '18 at 18:57
4

Apaul and baldprussian bring up some very good points.

If the other adults in the house are not committed to keeping boundaries, then you are entitled to at least upholding your boundaries. They are more than welcome to have their personal property damaged by this child but it's more than reasonable to expect that you and your boundaries are respected.

If his father is absent, he may view you as a parental figure or just someone who actually gives him attention.

Transparency

Be transparent about your disciplining/talking to when/if it occurs. In my 10+ years of experience with childcare systems, I generally only discipline in cases of safety (physical or emotional), bullying, or disrespect to other children/adults. (Discipline: never physical, always a talking to, time out, or meeting with parent). I always follow up with the parents on these issues.

Since this child cries wolf, I would be wary of physical touch (unless it compromises his/others safety).

Discipline

My best tool is my voice, body language, and how I use it to address a serious matter. Sometimes I implement a countdown (from 5 or 10) in group settings. I always begin loudly (not shouting), speak slowly and clearly, my facial expression is serious, my body is positioned to their height or at least ensuring that they are looking at me, and I countdown to whatever I'm requesting they do. I gradually lower the volume, tone, and speed of my voice as the child/children quiet down and listen.

For example:

I've asked you once. I'm going to count from 10 and by the time I get to 1, my tablet should be in my hand and you should be downstairs. 10... 9...

I've given you a choice. You have 10 seconds to give my tablet back and go downstairs to play. 10... 9...

Choices

Even though he's 6 years old, he can still make his own choices. This means he gets to choose the outcome of the event. It can be a good or bad one. Either way, the following choices all involve him leaving your room:

  • He can use the tablet after you have finished homework.
  • He can watch TV, color, or play with other toys.
  • He can be difficult and sit in time out (if you choose to go this far and is agreeable to the other adults).
  • He can be difficult and lose tablet privileges.

So, he can choose between doing something fun or having no fun. The countdown and choices typically work for various scenarios (cleaning up, eating, chores, getting dressed, etc).

I acknowledge that this system is not for everyone.

2

A six-year-old kid is a bit old for the whole constant "no" thing. I don't know what more to say on that, but he should be more reasonable by this age.

Whatever rules and boundaries you decide to set, it is vital to get the other adults on board with it. Talk with the other adults, especially the kid's parent(s), regarding what behavior you expect from the kid regarding your stuff and your space. Then the kid's parent(s) should have a conversation with the kid regarding what the rules are, so that the kid can know the rules and also know that there are other adults in his life who are intent on enforcing them. Then afterwards there should be consistency across all the adults in the household regarding enforcing and enforcement of those rules.

You may also want to consider spending less time at the house. Your college is likely to have many good study spots, and you may find studying there to be more productive than studying at home for reasons beyond just the six-year-old reason you've described.

(The way you pose your question, parts of it may also benefit from attention at Parenting Stack Exchange if you are unable to find satisfactory answers here.)

  • +1 Absolutely. Explain the rules to him clearly, including what the consequences are for breaking them, and then apply the consequences immediately every time he breaks the rules. E.g. "Rule: You can only be in the attic when Tyg13 and GF say it's okay. Consequences: If you stay after they ask you to leave, you lose TV privileges for 2 days [or whatever]." This only works if all of the adults are on board, though. – Rose Hartman Feb 3 '18 at 18:30
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I know it's not a full answer to your question, but a tip that has helped me and may help you in some situations - like the one where you mentioned asking him to go downstairs today.

Initially try not to make a singular demand, but offer two options. Something like:

I'm very busy with homework and I need you to either play quietly or go and play downstairs.

If you make a demand, he's going to feel like he's not doing what he wants to do, but if you make an offer you can make him feel like he's had some autonomy in the situation.

What's more if he stays and continues to be noisy, you can then ask him to go downstairs. Showing him that if he pushes your boundaries, there are consequences.

-1

No matter if you're right or wrong, someone's going to blow up at you for daring to "discipline their kid". That's the way the world works, and no, it's not fair.

I would suggest a gate that little Attila can't bypass, at the entrance to your room, or better yet, downstairs at the point beyond which there is noplace else to go but your room.

You can discuss this calmly and logically with the other adults there, but if I were in your shoes, I wouldn't hold out too much hope. Their "little darling" can do no wrong, of course.

  • Sadly, that's a highly probable outcome. – AndreiROM Feb 3 '18 at 5:29
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    A gate is not a viable solution for a 6 year old, and it might help to back up why you think OP cannot discuss it with the other adults – Jesse Feb 3 '18 at 12:55
  • A gate would have to be "child safe", of course. Since the OP is in the attic, there's no place for little Attila to fall down to. And certainly the OP can discuss it with the other adults. Doing so will not accomplish anything, however. – Jennifer 442 Feb 3 '18 at 13:54
  • It seems like anything you do could be construed as excessive force. You will not be given the benefit of the doubt. May I suggest setting your tablet (or something else) to film your room? You want to be already recording at the time he comes in. – Jennifer 442 Feb 3 '18 at 14:16

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