Dear Savvy Auntie,

I am the proud Auntie of four nieces and one nephew. My family only has one boy every 15 years.

I am concerned with my sister's behavior towards my nephew, 5. She stays angry at him and has made a few remarks (though not in front of him) that make me worry. She insists he has a terrible attitude and never listens to her. I don't know what is going on because I live across the country and only get to come home every so often. I am the youngest of our family and do not have children but I worry about my sister and nephew. I do not feel I can call her out on her attitude because I am not a parent (which sadly they remind me of quite often).

She made the remark today that she used to love him so much when he was a baby because he was good. Every time I talk to her he has done something to make her angry. The most recent incident was that he was supposed to ask his sister what she wanted from McDonald's instead he asked if she wanted McDonald's. When he told her that she wanted McDonald's she blew up at him. I mean she SCREAMED at him. My mother stepped in but the look on my nephew's face makes me think this has happened before.

I don't want my only nephew to think he is not good enough but I don't know what to do. Our family is not always the most emotionally conscious family but I want to be there for these kids like people were for me. Please tell me what to do.

Emotionally Conscious Auntie

Dear Emotionally Conscious Auntie,

Your sister’s shortness with her son may be the result of so few males in your family and her unfamiliarity with how boys are different than girls. The quality of their attention is usually less acute and therefore they miss instructions and cues. It is also possible that your nephew may have actual attention issues. You might ask your sister what the teachers say about his ability to listen and follow instructions in school.

I understand that you are at a disadvantage because your family doesn’t respect your opinion since you don’t have your own children (a problem for many Aunties). You can remedy this somewhat by reading up on child development. The author I like very much is T. Berry Brazelton, he has written a number of books, you can probably find one in your library. This knowledge will arm you in any discussion about kids.

I also suggest you give your sister some sympathy for her upset without condoning her behavior. It is also natural for parents to let off steam about their kids; I am glad to hear she doesn’t do it to him, but with you.

In addition, you can stay in touch with him through Skype, praising him for any achievements and accomplishments and building a supportive and caring relationship with him. Believe it or not, you can be a role model for your sister even if she doesn’t acknowledge it.

You don’t mention the part his father plays in parenting. I am hopeful he is more patient as your nephew will be turning more and more to him as his “main” parent.

Best of Luck,

Natalie Robinson Garfield

Published: August 31, 2011 ,

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