Dear Savvy Auntie,

My niece is at the lovely age of four, that age where she is testing her boundaries at every turn. She is by no means a wild child, just four. I try to discipline her but I do not want to overstep my boundaries as her aunt. My sister has had a hard time giving up control and letting other people take care of my niece

I do not see my niece that often, maybe 4 or 5 times a year. She is also used to me being the fun one, which I still want to be, but I also realize that if she is going be spending time with me without her parents, I need take action if/when needed.

This past weekend, while my sister and her family were visiting, I was taking mental notes as to how they got her to behave. I guess I just need advice on how to still be the fun auntie she has always known and loved, but also discipline her.

Fun Auntie

Dear Fun Auntie,

You are a wise auntie to plan ahead when you visit with your niece. Four year old girls are at a particular stage of development in testing limits and asserting themselves. I spend an afternoon each week with my four year old grandniece and her two year old sister, so I am very familiar with the challenges.

Firstly, keep the rules simple and few. Too many rules with too complex explanations are confusing. Secondly, think ahead about the consequences. State them and make sure they are “close in kind and close in time." So, misbehaving at the diner means it is time to leave. Being sassy or fresh calls for sitting on a chair and thinking about speaking nicely. Being wild (unsteady) means she needs time to get steady and perhaps apologize. As you can see, it is important that you “keep your cool” and speak in a neutral tone, firmly and convincingly.

Being a fun auntie is part of being a stable, sensible, sometimes serious auntie. Give her three compliments on her behavior every day. Look forward to when she is five or six and interested in learning...she will be calmer and more cooperative.

I suggest you browse some child development books and choose one that appeals to you as an understanding of her challenges as they may assist you in managing her behavior. I like T.Berry Brazelton the very best; but you may like another author.

Best of Luck,

Natalie Robinson Garfield


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