Q.My nephew, 9 years old, is driving me crazy. He is the oldest of four children -- a sister, 7, and twin brothers, 4.
I live with my mom in our house with my kids -- two boys, 10 1/2 and 2, and my girl, 6 1/2.
My sister, who's having a hard time making ends meet, visits us three to four times a week. She washes her clothes at our house and they usually eat here, too. You can imagine how hectic this is at times with 10 people in the house at once.
I get along fine with all the other children, but the 9-year-old is constantly starting trouble. He's got the worst disposition I've ever seen. He's a pathological liar, he steals, he's mean and selfish -- and those are his good points. Sound unbelievable? It's true. Anybody who knows him will agree (except Grandma).
He continually teases my older son until they fight. He picks on all the kids and hurts them physically.
He gets A's and B's at school. His teacher says he's quiet there and that he daydreams and seems burdened.
He lies about his teachers, peers, neighbors, but when called on it he sobs and proclaims his innocence. Finally, he'll admit he's been lying all along.
The major problem is the fights all this causes between my mother and me. If I correct him or say anything negative to him when she's around, he starts bawling, she tells me off and my sister ends up taking him home.
I've begged my sister to seek help for him but she keeps putting it off. This has been going on for years and it's getting worse. The fights used to be with my sister and mother but my sister finally realized her son was the cause.
My mother doesn't believe that a 9-year-old can be manipulative and thinks everyone picks on him. She automatically goes to bat for him the minute something happens. He knows it and runs to her. He'll start having pretend stomachaches, headaches, a sore finger or leg -- anything to get her pity.
I've tried to be supportive, giving him compliments on his grades, appearance and taking him special places -- just me and him. He can be very sweet and loving, but the minute he's around my mom, the "show" begins.
The bottom line is -- he needs help, I need help and I would like to know where to take him for counseling. His mom agrees.
A.You're right. Your nephew does need help -- but so does your mom.
Here she is, at an age when life should be a bit easier, and she has to give time, space and energy to two growing families. Whether she always does well or not, she certainly deserves credit for trying.
She also needs more consideration. It only gets her upset when you discipline your nephew -- and it doesn't help; your mom goes straight to his defense. That's the way it is with grandmother hens: they try hardest to help the least of their chicks, because they know that these are the ones who need help the most.
So much attention to one child, whether negative or positive, must give the other children one more reason to resent him. It also probably heightens the natural rivalry between you and your sister. All this adds to the tension.
As both you and his mother realize, your nephew needs help now. Certainly he has sent many signals.
Nine is the age when a child should be bouncy, not depressed; sanguine, not aggressive; and reasonably honest most of the time.
Instead, he'd rather lie and steal than accept the slightest blame -- perhaps because he feels responsible for anything that's gone wrong in the family -- even a death or a divorce. It's going to take a therapist to help him unload all that freight.
The best place to start would be at the county mental health association. Fortunately, the one where you live is particularly good in its child and adolescent department. He'll be assigned to a therapist who will probably include the rest of the family in some of the meetings, so everyone, including Grandma, can learn better ways to deal with him and each other. If one person changes even a little bit, the other people in the family will change too, at least to that degree.
Family therapy also will give you specific techniques to deal with your nephew. Any child does better if he gets warm smiles and thank you's, and a troubled child also does better if you give him a big bear hug just before he gets aggressive -- as you steer him the other way. He'll also improve if you help him perfect some skills at home the way he does at school. Pie-baking would be a good one, because a dessert guarantees compliments, which he needs, and because it will help to turn a tense meal into a small celebration. And despite the troubles you're having, your family does have something to celebrate: you break bread together every week.
Until the long visits are more peaceful, however, you need to spend some of the time outside of the house. This will help you be more charitable with your nephew, which is what he needs. Under that bad disposition is a dear, scared little boy, begging to be free.