My cousin's 8-year-old son seems to be one of the worst kids I know. We have tried so many different angles of punishment and tried to compromise...

First to start with, he likes to get into things. Not just any thing though. He gets into the food so much to where we have limited supplies. We have the pantry and refrigerator locked. He also likes to get into things in my bedroom. He gets into my collectibles and my fiancée's collectibles and destroys them. He even somehow got into the safe with our adult toys in them! He finds lighters around the house and sets things that are other people's on fire.

Worst of all, every time he does any of these things, he blames them on his sister or my 2-year-old. Usually it's something they can't do alone or at all, and most of the time he tells us different stories when we try to talk to him.

It is so difficult to be able to teach him to be good. He's getting worse by the day to the point where we don't know what else to do except boys' school. I have looked everywhere for answers, options, solutions, and still have found no help. We love him and don't want to lose him, but don't know what else to do.

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    Is the child living with you? What are the circumstances of this arrangement? Who's responsible (primarily) for his discipline? Jan 26, 2015 at 20:44
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    We need more details, like anongoodnurse asked. However, since you say that he's playing with fire(!), I implore you (or the primary guardian) to seek immediate professional help. Such behavior is dangerous and can lead to life-threatening situations, and we're not qualified to give advice on preventing such behavior, especially if he has Pyromania (which we can't diagnose).
    – user11394
    Jan 26, 2015 at 21:57
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    Has his behaviour always been like this or did it change? If it changed then was there anything in his life (e.g. family bereavement, parental divorce, moving house, moving school, family illness) which could have prompted it?
    – A E
    Jan 27, 2015 at 17:25

3 Answers 3


When my son is "explosive", if I try to really listen to him (which mean I don't speak), it really makes a difference.

You could try to listen to his "why". He (and perhaps you as well) might be surprised.

Active listening = no yes/no question, silence, reformulation to make sure you get what he meant.

Next time he mishaves, you could first take a big breath to relax and look at him. Why did he do that ? What actually happened in his head ? When you're ready and really want to know, sit. To be at the same level. And observe what he did, without judgements. You can point out the consequences. Making eye contact is important and you can also touch his arm to get his attention. "The stuff that was in my closed are spread in the floor. Now they are dirty." (pause). (Look at him deeply, don't yell or shout but be firm). Ask very gently (you have to understand his purpose) "what happened ?". If he express resent or bad feelings, put your efforts on staying calm and helping him naming his feelings "You were very upset".

Reference : Adele Faber books, such as

  • "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk", which is full of very concrete day by day examples.
  • "Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family" looks more like a novel.
  • Welcome to the site. :) This would be a better answer if it were fleshed out a bit. Jan 27, 2015 at 3:14
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    Thanks ! I wanted to keep it short. I added a example and more reference :)
    – Foucha
    Jan 27, 2015 at 21:26

According to studies, kids aren't inherently naughty. Something's going on. Children don't like being told off -- check out resources like this TRC blog written by one of the national authorities in child trauma in the UK; it makes a lot of sense.

The child needs to be listened to, affirmed, and cherished. However it sounds like he has complex needs and issues and I think such diagnoses are well out of the scope of Parenting.SE. All I know is that I've known so many stories of people who've been through the TRC and completely changed. The child needs help, he doesn't have ADHD, he doesn't need medicating away; something's going on or happened in the past. I hope it goes well.


I think that, first off, it is hard to say exactly what you can do given this is not your child, and presumably you do not have final authority on how he is raised. Any solution must be implemented and approved by his parent first and foremost; even if you watch him alone for significant amounts of time, if at-home his parents don't have the same approach, it won't work.

That said, it sounds like you have several separate issues here. One is that he is finding things to do. Does he have enough to do? At eight, and particularly as a curious eight year old, he probably should be spending most of his time outside (at least in the spring/summer/fall months), and if inside should have a great deal of things to play with and interact with. Some kids (like myself) are book-centric; give me a dozen books and I'd be good for a week at that age. But some kids are not: they need physical and visual stimulation.

Maybe you have a lot of things for him to play with, but you don't have enough things that are appropriate for his preferences. You have trains and cars, but he likes dinosaurs and army men - or the reverse. Maybe he likes building things - or destroying built things; there are toys for both. Talk to him, find out what he likes doing, and make sure he has sufficient space and equipment to do that.

If he's interested in fire and burning things, you can satiate that as well. Teach him to cook. Get him a chemistry set. Sounds like he's into lockpicking and safecracking; there are some fun books on the subject (both doing it, and mystery/detective/thriller novels about it). Maybe cryptography- I liked that.

Second, there are clearly issues with boundaries and personal space. First off, make sure your collectibles are sufficiently secure that he can't easily get into them. Lock your door. Second, have a conversation with him about what his boundaries are. Talk to him about where he can and can't go, and why. My three year old son largely understands why he can't go in the basement alone, and never tries to - even when he's at his most misbehaving wild and crazy stage, which he definitely has. The only time he'd ever do it is to get my attention, he might go down one stair and laugh and tell me he's going - but he'd never go on his own. He knows why he can't (it's unfinished). He buys into his own safety.

On the other hand here, though, does the boy have his own space? Does he have areas that are safely his own? A common issue with being at someone else's house is not having a room to go to - even as an adult this is a problem with me when I'm staying at another's house; I feel uncomfortable. As an adult that manifests as irritation and avoidance of others from time to time; as an eight year old I could see it manifesting differently.

Third, how do you handle the situation when he does misbehave and does something unsafe or damaging? You either need a consistent and logical punishment, or (what I favor) natural consequences and helping him understand that he hurt you and how you feel, to encourage him to not do it on his own. By natural consequences I mean, if he breaks something, he has to clean it up and replace it. Don't yell at him, don't lock him in his room; make him fix the problem, and then consider it done.

Don't forget that telling a child he's naughty is a self fulfilling prophecy: a child who believes he's bad will act bad, because he thinks that's how he should act. This is really hard to avoid - my three year old, who we largely raise without any sort of punishments (based on natural consequences and very limited time outs when truly necessary, largely), still remembers the one time I told him he was acting wild, and tells me that he's wild fairly frequently.

Ultimately, the point of all of this: your nephew (or whatever you call the relationship... technically first cousin once removed I guess) is a human being, and you should treat him like one. Find out why he's acting this way by asking him, and solve the problem. This might not be easy - he probably doesn't entirely know why he is acting out - but go in with an analytic approach. Find out what his problems are, find out what he would be happy doing while he's over at your house (if outside is out of the question - and I'd really strongly suggest finding a way for it to be possible), and enable him to do that.

  • Excellent answer. Don't try to control him because that won't ever work. Instead, teach him without assuming that he should already know how to behave.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jan 28, 2015 at 20:47

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