My 4 year old niece is very sensitive to the tone of your voice and hates confrontation. She cries all out if she is scolded or if your tone is even remotely unhappy. I think she figured out that if she does this, a punishment if any gets thrown away and she gets coddled by a grandparent.

Is it too young to have her try to handle her own social situations? These are situations with her younger brother who is 2 years old and her cousin (my daughter) 2.75 years old and at home. So I figure this is good practice for the playground? She does not go to day-care/school yet. When she asks me for help, I tell her that she and the other kid need to figure out a solution together (not in those exact words). Sometimes they do come up with a solution. If she doesn't get the compromise she wants, she gets another adult to help. I am in the same room to hear what they come up with but not obviously observing just listening in.

  • Should I ease up and just intervene when she asks me to because of her age?
  • Could she have problems coping with not getting her way (maybe from the 2 years spent on giving in to her younger brother's needs)? Is this a personality trait or an exposure issue? Or is this what being 4 years old is like?
  • 2
    This woman needs help, not down-voting. Yes, she is wrong, but explain why! (If her niece came to her and said how do you multiply two 2-digit numbers, you wouldn't say go figure it out yourself.) And explain HOW she can help her niece, too!
    – user6365
    Jan 6, 2014 at 12:00
  • To note the "cousin" in this picture is my own daughter so I keep what I say around her consistent like helping clean up a mess you made like in that situation. My niece is sensitive even to her own parents. The help she asks is for a toy from a child not something complicated (she is very advanced in language) so I usually say, "go ask so-and-so for it". I don't think it's necessarily "right" for me to intimidate (not in a threatening way but children will listen to adults more than a child, my niece is no fool she knows this) another child to give her a toy.
    – Rhea
    Jan 6, 2014 at 14:02
  • But I also teach my daughter that if her cousins (we usually play at their house) asks for their toys back, she should give it back because it is not her toy, she was just borrowing it. Often I think my niece is testing that with me because she hears me say the logic to my daughter. I like to give my daughter the opportunity to respond to her cousin asking for their toy back without my prompting as well to see what she comes up with. I don't say to my niece/nephew "you should share".
    – Rhea
    Jan 6, 2014 at 14:05
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    I actually see at least three quite different questions in this one - which may be why some one down-voted it. I'll answer only the question in the title below. The two most obvious are the question in the title, and the question about how much should you intercede since the child is a niece and not your own child, but there is also an element here about dealing with the sensitivities of the child. Perhaps some editing to focus the answer more closely on which problem you'd like to address and then another question about the other problem? Jan 6, 2014 at 15:57
  • 3
    Just a friendly reminder about our voting policy. We don't want to discourage people from asking questions with a basis others might disagree with. We want this site to be a safe place to receive gentle correction on your misconceptions. Jan 6, 2014 at 17:35

2 Answers 2


Being four is really different between kids and your guesses as to the cause of your niece's sensitivity are probably all accurate to some degree some of the time. The main thing is that she have people around her to guide her (with principles like Karl Bielfeldt offers) and with love. Her sesnitive side just means she will receive your corrections and guidance better when you use an even tone, low emotive posturing and present her with a lot of questions instead of directives.

On the other point, asking a four-year-old to deal with two, two year olds effectively, is probably not fair to the four-year-old. However, I wouldn't say your idea of asking her to see if she can figure it out is all wrong either. Practice at independent action is how one eventually gains independence.

Two year old (even the one who is almost three) children are not reasonable yet (usually). This means that even if the four year old is using perfectly reasonable language and aiming for a very nice compromise, she is likely to face frustrating and unreasonable responses from her younger cousins. She needs some help.

Frankly, even a four year old is not going to consistently be reasonable, but offering the opportunity for "figuring it out yourselves" while you watch the exchange to this age group is a lot more appropriate when adults are around to help. It also sets her at a better advantage to practice with kids as close to her own age (or older kids you trust to set a good example and act as mentors). I'd watch, and when intervention or feedback is needed, be there to offer it (act as moderator, but don't negotiate for them as often as possible).

I do also suggest offering suggestions about coping with two-year-olds to your niece. For example, if she is wanting to play with something like blocks and the two year old keeps knocking over her tower, I'd help her re-locate to a table top where the two-year-old will have a harder time reaching the blocks. When my daughter was four and we had younger children around, I taught her about "redirecting" where she could try to trade with a two year old (or younger) that had just taken a toy she wanted to play with. This prevented her from just snatching and is a negotiation technique that often works well with younger children. By showing her some of these kinds of techniques I taught her how to help herself at least some of the time, but never expected her to be able to employ them successfully and on her own with any sort of regularity.


Different children naturally handle conflict differently, even those with the same parents. I don't think you can draw any conclusions about discipline by watching a child's reaction. Also, for better or worse, a lot of (maybe even most) parents go easier on their children when company is over.

The general principle of expecting children to solve their own problems is a good one, but it's not something children can handle alone overnight. They need to be taught how the principles of fairness, sharing, and atoning for your mistakes apply in different situations, and they need the guidance of an adult for that, for quite a while.

Without adult guidance, the advantage skews to the child who is more aggressive or the child who is more adept at manipulating the rules to their favor. For example, my son will say things like, "Mom and Dad want us to share, so you need to let me play with your new birthday present right now." If the other child acquiesces, technically they have solved their own problem, but not in a fair way. It sounds like some of that is going on with cousins using the rules you gave your daughter to avoid sharing.

So rather than just telling them to fix it themselves, try to give them the guiding principle to apply in that situation:

  • "You broke my tower after I asked you not to. What do you think you should do to make it better?"
  • "How do you think you would feel if you had a brand new birthday toy? What's another way you could have something to play with, without taking a new toy from someone else?"

However, the principles you give should focus on things the child you're instructing can change, which is her own behavior. Yes, you're intervening, but intervening to force one child to do what another child wants should be rare, such as when correcting an injustice like one child hitting another to take his toy.

It's a tricky balance to strike. You want your child to be comfortable coming to you with problems, and know you have her back, but you also want her to have the tools to deal with those situations when you're not around. Fortunately, you have plenty of time to prepare her for that.

As far as how much intervention is appropriate with your niece versus your own child, I agree with @balancedmama that it's really a separate question, but in a nutshell, I think if the child is specifically coming to you, you should treat it the same as a request from your own child, unless her parents have asked you differently.

  • Thanks for your answer. I added the discipline info to see if it could help answers come about. I see my niece and nephew 2-3x a week. We live 5 blocks from them. This has gone on for months with me guiding them through sharing with each other same scenario - someone wants a toy. I do treat her like my own child - same tone. My daughter is just used to me more I guess. I ask my daughter how she thinks she can handle a situation before I guide her as you suggested. I agree it is a tricky balance to strike.
    – Rhea
    Jan 6, 2014 at 23:06
  • Yes, it is a very similar feeling to what your son says. She has even told my daughter to shout at my nephew when she knows I have corrected my daughter many times not to do that. I came in the room and my niece immediately cowered and said, "I'm okay" (as in don't talk to me) knowing I was about to do some correcting. I corrected my daughter not my niece. So I am not sure what is going on with her.
    – Rhea
    Jan 6, 2014 at 23:17

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