I'm lucky to have my sister living close by with her young children. However, my nephew, age six, is increasingly aggressive, sometimes very violent. When angry, he clenches his fists, shakes violently and runs to my son, age four, with an object in his hand. He's frequently violently hit my son. My sister and brother-in-law rarely discipline him. Mostly, they scream at him and then turn away, while I'm left consoling my crying son. My nephew will also break our toys, throw our furniture around and talks back to us, and his parents. If I mention my concerns, my sister gets very defensive. My husband and I know we cannot fully blame my nephew, for it is parents who need to guide their children. We know saying something will hurt our relationship with my sister and brother-in-law and I cannot imagine cutting off ties between the cousins. But I cannot trust my nephew.
Protect your child above all else. Sign your son up for an activity program and keep him busy during the time the kids usually get together. When that's impossible, the two boys must be monitored; when there's trouble, separate them for the rest of the day. Tell your sister - without blame - that you love your nephew and recognize that he has anger problems and hope she'll try to help him. Then offer her some ways to find information and guidance.
For example, the New York Child Study Center references a study on aggression that says the following: "Irritable, aggressive children need firm, consistent, immediate responses. Parents who feel they are ineffective and have difficulty controling their own aggressive tendencies or behaviors, should seek help. Even with the best parenting, however, acting-out and anti-social children can be trying and difficult to handle, underscoring the need for parents to learn particular discipline strategies. If a child seems unusually difficult to care for and comfort, discussion with a pediatrician, psychologist or counselor can direct parents to local classes that teach positive ways to handle the difficulties of raising children." (see www.AboutOurKids.org)
Dear Readers: In a previous column, "Sadly Celibate" wrote about having seriously dated a young man who ended their romance because he'd determined to become a priest (Jan. 17). She wanted to know how to stop him from making this "mistake." I advised her to accept his decision, and enjoy the degree of friendship he still offered (he visited her occasionally and sometimes cuddled her to comfort her unhappiness). I told her to move on in her dating life. Though I directed my answer to the writer, some readers felt that a strong message was needed to be sent to the young man:
* For a priest, intimacy cannot include "cuddling": (1) it blurs boundaries and (2) it leads to confusion (the problem here). Although he may well have intended to "comfort," it's too ambiguous a behaviour. The seminarian is playing with fire; if he cannot understand that reality at this point, then he needs to put off ordination until this is resolved. In order to be true friends to one another, they need to respect well-defined boundaries.
- A Concerned Priest
* In our perhaps more cynical take, it sounds like this man is trying to have his wafer and eat it too. We believe he's struggling with his calling as a priest, and at times wanting more than a friendship! Your advice is sound that she should move on, however, this might mean having to disconnect from him completely. And he should seriously examine what his life is like without her friendship, and what that means to him as a priest as well.
- The Cynics
* Going over to her apartment goes against the code of conduct for seminarians. His behaviour should actually be reported to his superiors and he should be put out of the seminary for some period of discernment, to assure himself and his superiors that he's actually called to the priesthood.
As a Catholic researcher and writer, I don't want any more priests who are unsure about their call to the priesthood and the concomitant call to celibacy. This guy is a classic case and it will do us all good if he takes time to figure out definitively what the heck he wants to do with his life. Otherwise, he's going to turn out to be another lawsuit waiting to happen.
Tip of the day:
Don't let family/social niceties interfere with protecting your child from aggression.