Nephew Receives Constant Negative Parenting

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have a beloved 9 yr old nephew who is home-schooled. I have always suspected that he is being talked to negatively most of the time and now that he and I communicate many hours per week by Facetime on our Ipads, it has been painfully confirmed. Even though it has been stated that he has grown out of his monster phase and that his 5 yr old brother is now the main monster, the older one gets habitually treated to withering comments. I hear the little one being told “I love you” multiple times per day, while I have never heard the older one get an impromptu I love you. His mother seems to take every possible opportunity to tear him down. Although he has a very good vocabulary and expresses himself extremely well, he is only beginning to sound out words and do some simple math problems. He is anxious and his mother believes he has OCD rituals due to gluten intolerance.

The Ipad is a gift I gave him, but his brother is regularly allowed to commandeer it and he is not supported in reclaiming it. He has no friends, teachers or other regular adults in his life outside of the family. His mother intimated that he had a really hard time for two days after I left last time I visited. It is clear that I am very important to him. I feel that I need to advocate for him better, but I don’t want to be kept out of his life if I overstep my boundaries. This has happened in the past. Is there anything I can do? This problem is keeping me up at night.

Thanks for any help you can provide.

A: This is a tough question to answer. There may be much more to this situation than meets the eye. I’m concerned because the boy is only doing first grade level work when he is 9 years old. Either the home schooling isn’t working or the child has more problems than gluten intolerance. It’s just possible that you don’t have the whole picture.

Have you tried sitting down with his parents and talking with them, in as loving a way as possible, about what they think goes on with their son? What you see as unloving may be frustration, guilt, and anger that their son isn’t what they thought he would be and/or they have been unable to help him. They may need help, not criticism, for being at the end of their rope. If that’s the case, you may be able to provide the support they need to find resources to help him.

If, on the other hand, they just don’t like their own son, it’s another matter. When that happens, there is often a secret. Again, all you can do is sit down with the parents and ask if there is a way you can help. Sometimes, it’s very helpful if a loving relative takes a kid out of a situation for school breaks and part of the summer. It gives everyone in the family a chance to regroup. It gives the child an alternative experience to hold onto. It can give you the opportunity to have fun with a youngster you obviously like.

As you point out, any intervention will need to be done with the utmost tact. The parents are already defensive so pushing too hard will only result in you being ejected from the situation.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 May 2014

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2014). Nephew Receives Constant Negative Parenting. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/05/02/nephew-receives-constant-negative-parenting/