My fiancé's nephew is 4 years old. He refuses to show respect and manners to adult figures; he constantly cusses (his favorite word is "wtf bitch", and he says it to me only.)

He also constantly hurts animals by pulling their ears and tails so hard they try to bite him. The dog has never bitten anyone before (she's a very good dog) and he chokes our other dog, when he hugs him. I've repeatedly told him not to treat animals like that. I've explained why he shouldn't, but he just smiles and does it again.

When I discipline him, he just throws a fit and screams. He acts out in public. His fits are ungodly and I spank him for misbehaving, and he's terrified of the belt.

I've tried just talking to him, but he refuses to look me in the eyes or even look at me when I'm talking to him. He ignores me and everything I say.

We play cars, we play in the pool. He gets plenty of positive attention. I watch him all day. We play games and when play time is over, he acts out.

He throws things. He kicked my fiancé in the face last night for no apparent reason. When I asked him why, he said, "Because". "Because" is his answer to everything he does wrong.

His parents have made him our responsibility. How do I change his behavior? I need to know because this has got to stop!

  • Welcome to the site! As far as I can tell, you are talking about your son. You may want to refer to him as your son as opposed to by name. Have you seen a pediatrician with him recently? If so, does the pediatrician know about this issue?
    – L.B.
    Oct 5, 2016 at 15:30
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    Side note - any discipline you try from answers will take time to adjust. Kids tend to think you won't follow through. Don't let frustration and anger show, but stay steady on what you choose to do. If you are around the kid the most you need your own rules you stick to so he knows how to behave with you. In fact, if you stay steady and do it in love he will begin to respect and prefer you. As much as kids fight against rules and expectation deep down they respect it and gravitate to it.
    – Adam Heeg
    Oct 6, 2016 at 19:57
  • Ok thank y'all for the help my fiance and I really appreciate it very much! Oct 7, 2016 at 0:38

2 Answers 2


Spanking doesn't stop (or even seem to influence) the behavior, so you might as well stop. Besides, it sends a pretty bad message to the child, and using the strap can get you involved with Child Protection Services (never a fun experience.)

Since you've kind of accepted this responsibility (if you didn't, he wouldn't be at your house), you might as well jump in with both feet. Make sure your fiancé is on board with this.

It sounds like you need a more effective kind of discipline. My favorite book on discipline is 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phalen. One of the things I love about 1-2-3 Magic is that arguing is dispensed with entirely (obviously only if done wisely). If you do it correctly, you don't even get upset. You just issue a warning to stop a bad behavior, then count. ON 3, the child gets a time out. After the time out, you communicate calmly with the child.

Use this in conjunction with a reward system for when he does stop the behavior. Many people use stickers which the child can then "trade in" for something special: a movie, a trip to the ice cream shop, a sleepover (if he's very, very good!) etc. At his age, the rewards need to be fairly immediate because he is only now (at four years of age) able to start delaying gratification. (Being able to delay gratification is very important, and has a positive correlation with future success.)

Be as consistent and predictable as night following day. Talk to him about which behaviors are acceptable and which are not before starting the counting/time out routine.

I believe he might benefit from an evaluation for possible ADD by a pediatrician. The earlier this is dealt with, the better. Any inconsistency is a setback. Always follow through on boundaries you set with/for a child. When he acts out in public, the same rules apply (I used to take my kids to the car for a time out.)

It sounds like your fiancé's nephew has had more than his fair share of a rough life. Besides discipline, he needs stability and love, and lots of it. If this is a commitment you feel called to make, dive in whole-heartedly. If you really are not willing to commit, then setting boundaries with his parents is something you might need to do.

Good luck. It's a tough situation for all involved.

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    Our society needs to slow down on ADD and ADHD. Let boys grow up naturally and put the effort in to raise them instead of drug them. healthcentral.com/adhd/c/268155/162810/…
    – Adam Heeg
    Oct 7, 2016 at 2:02
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    @AdamHeeg - For what it's worth, diagnosis/treatment does not necessarily involve drugs; that is not a meritorious assumption. I happen to believe drug use for ADD is a last resort situation. Knowing what you're dealing with is not. Oct 7, 2016 at 2:05

How busy is your day to day life? If the bulk of personal, 1 on 1 time he gets is when he acts out, he's going to prefer the negative attention vs none.

Now, if he gets some positive, focused attention from the parent(s), then a punishment or time out for acting out will seem, in comparison, to be a bad thing.

It sounds like he's looking for more interaction and will take it any way he can get it. That's just a general impression.

Or, does he get positive attention, but your reaction is pretty dramatic when he says these things? That's power and control, which children don't feel they have much of. Try to keep your own emotions very neutral, and administer consequences in an even, boring fashion.

  • Yes we play cars we play in the pool he gets plenty of positive attention. But no he's not my kid his dad just sits in his room all day acts lile the kid doesn't exist hes not my hes my fiance's nephew. I watch him all day we play games and we play time is over he acts out Oct 5, 2016 at 22:29
  • @BrandiHamilton Where is his mother?
    – Warren Dew
    Oct 6, 2016 at 0:06
  • Who knows. She says she's going to come get him but she never shows up and frankly me and my fiance are tired of her not being here this isnt our responsibility but both of his parents are making it our responsibility. We can't do this anymore hes out of control and we have no idea what were doing or what were supposed to do Oct 6, 2016 at 12:52
  • Okay, my response was a bit off, but probably not far off. It does sound attention from actual parents is lacking. What a shame. Oct 6, 2016 at 13:06
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    Poor little guy. He must feel abandoned and may have a bad behaviour to test you and your fiancé's love for him. He might fear that you will abandon him too.
    – aneder
    Mar 17, 2018 at 0:29

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