I am a new Uncle and I sometimes find myself in the position that I should tell my niece off, yet I feel that it's not my place to do this.

I would only raise my voice to her, but I feel this may overstep the bounds with her parents (my Brother and his partner). Should I ask them what they are comfortable with, or proceed to make my own judgement?


5 Answers 5


Definitely discuss this with your brother and his partner.

Many parents (hopefully most) try to have a consistent strategy for discipline, sometimes with quite well-defined steps for progression.

Any discipline you provide should be in alignment with, and supported by, the overall discipline your niece's parents provide.

If, however, you find that your brother and his partner don't want you to provide any discipline at all, be prepared to describe the behavior that bothers you, why it bothers you, and ask how they recommend you all reach a situation where the behavior can cease to be an issue.

  • The problem is that if the parents were effectively disciplining, they would likely effectively discipline at Uncle Chris' house. They don't.
    – tomjedrz
    Jul 9, 2011 at 5:01
  • 1
    @tomjedrz You seem to be assuming that the parents are present when the child is at Uncle Chris' house. I believe my last paragraph is appropriate advice if the parents aren't effectively disciplining, however. It is far, far better to start discussion with the parents rather than to simply decide "they aren't raising this kid right, so I'll have to do it for them", especially if that discipline comes sporadically (i.e. only when she's with her uncle). Discipline has to be consistent for it to be effective. Part-time parenting doesn't work.
    – user420
    Jul 9, 2011 at 16:34
  • Part-time parenting doesn't work as well as full-time and coordinated parenting, but it is more effective than most would guess. Kids can be totally different from themselves in other enviornments as they attempt to rise to differing expectations - agreed that it is tough to do though. Dec 2, 2012 at 22:20

First, don't yell at her. Not only is it not your place, but it is remarkably ineffective at correcting undesirable behavior.

Second, if she is misbehaving and the parents are not controlling her, it is they who should be "told off", respectfully and calmly.

When the parents are present, you should not discipline her without their permission. Give her direction ("Please don't touch that"), but you don't apply consequences ("Since you touched that after being told not to, you get to sit in time out for 5 minutes").

When she is left in your care, you should discuss what tools they use to discipline her, and apply similar ones. If they use time out in the corner, you use time out in the corner. If they use confinement to the bedroom, then you use confinement to a (safe) quiet space. If they don't discipline then I would avoid being a caregiver.

Note: if you become a regular caretaker, then this will change as the "house rules" and their consequences become clear to the parents and the child.


You really should discuss it with your brother, because every parent is different, but if you want to know what is a generally socially acceptable amount of discipline without a prior discussion, it really depends on what rules are being broken. If a child is physically mistreating you, your property, or someone else, or is in imminent danger herself, you have every right to step in. For everything else, you can make a polite request of the child or parent, just like you would ask another adult to stop a behavior that was annoying to you. Some parents get very protective when strangers directly address their children, even if you mean well, but that's not a concern usually with family. Don't ever punish a child without specifically discussing it in advance with her parents.


We kind of have an unsaid rule around here. We all discipline each others children as if they were our own. It teaches the kids to respect their elders.

My mother never allowed me to discipline my younger brother when I was baby-sitting him. Talk about a nightmare. During his growing up stage he never respected anything I would say, everything was an up-hill battle and became an unsafe environment when he would refuse to listen and continue doing what he shouldn't.

The last thing that you want to happen, is for the child and you to hate each other because there's a lack of respect in the family. If any child is dis-behaving around you, it's your duty to straighten them out, that's the role of an adult.

  • 1
    Downvoted because you beleive spanking other people's children is acceptable.
    – DanBeale
    Jan 22, 2014 at 16:04
  • @DanBeale Where does it say he believes that?
    – SQB
    Mar 3, 2014 at 14:52
  • @SQB I believe that DanBeale is responding to This
    – kleineg
    Jun 17, 2014 at 17:40
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    @This Ah, I see. Reprehensible. But without that extra context, this answer isn't bad. I also expect my sister-in-law to give my sons a timeout when necessary. 'Discipline' in itself does not mean 'corporal punishment' to me.
    – SQB
    Jun 17, 2014 at 18:27
  • @SQB I agree, the answer as stated is good or average. I might have said that I would spell out the intended discipline with the parent and come to an agreement of what they are comfortable with (Pro tip: anyone trying the recommendation in the link with my child had better start running, fast). But, as the lawyers say "facts not in evidence" so as is I have no problem with this answer.
    – kleineg
    Jun 17, 2014 at 20:17

I have plenty of experience with this one! If your niece is at your home or is doing something that is directly impacting you (or your young kids), you have every right to calmly and respectfully "correct" the behavior as you would in any other situation - whether the parents like it or not. If your niece is old enough to speak, Try, "I don't like __, could you please _ instead." or "At my house we __, instead of ____." If she is not old enough to speak try redirecting her, "Oh look at this toy, isn't that cool? . . ."

If that kind of a response doesn't work, then speaking with your brother and his partner is probably a good idea. Most reasonable people would see that you asked politely and a response was not made. Since those reasonable people want their children to grow up to be respectful adults, they'll do something themselves or let you in on how they usually deal with such experiences.

In my experience, my sister in law, always has an excuse, "well she was just tired." or "they're over-excited - just ignore it." This kind of thing would be said when the initial, "Hey at my house we _ instead of." Or, "please stop, I don't like that." Even gentle redirection brought her to us with all kinds of excuses as to why a child should not even get the request to behave differently (even in the case of inflicted harm, broken objects and other out-side-the-norm mal-adjusted behaviors).

Just in case your brother and his partner are equally unreasonable, I would say that as a third step applying your own discipline while in your own home is well within your rights - barring of course, verbal or physical abuse.

The tough part about that is that you do have to be careful to choose a discipline style with your niece that you can actually enforce. Since, in my case the mom always "saved" her kids from even having their faulty action pointed out as such, we stopped inviting them as a family. Amazingly, (perhaps) the kids still come occasionally and are generally better-behaved when mom and dad aren't around.

I personally use a style with the kids that includes questioning rather than blaming or "punishing." Considering the age of your niece and depending on maturity, I might say, "what do you think the consequences of __ are if you did this as an adult?" or "What would happen if you did __ to a friend? - would you be invited back?" Followed with, "I love you and want you to be successful here and with friends. What do you think you could do instead?" As long as mom and dad aren't around to interrupt - I've had a lot of luck with the method. Just yelling or "telling off" isn't likely to get you anywhere with your niece's behavior even if your brother and his partner stand with you so I would recommend against that particular action.

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