My brother in law is a cocky, arrogant person. The way I see it, my son plays with him and they laugh and play really loud, but suddenly he has change of mood like flicking a switch. As 4-year-olds do not know when to stop, he carries on because he is a kid, but suddenly he is scolded to stop it and enough because my brother-in-law had enough. This makes my son cry and suddenly be alert.

Recently my son's cousin, age 8, came to visit. They were playing whilst the 8-year-old was leaning off the sofa to see something while my son jumped on his back as they were playing. Suddenly my brother-in-law shouted at my son, "To get off him, don't you see it is hurting". It was so harsh that even the cousin's father was shocked and took my son in his arms to cuddle him.

This kind of on and off and shouting behaviour can be permanently damaging. While I cannot make a 28-year-old understand how his behaviour is making my son uncomfortable. How can I teach my son not to get carried away with anyone except dad and mom?

TBH, I wanted to break my bother-in-law's teeth in his stomach for shouting at my son so loud.

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    You will have a much more effective and reasonable solution by keeping your child away from adults who bully and scream at him, than by teaching your child not to play with anyone but his parents. I suspect that if your son obviously avoids playing with him, that may also be enough to 'set off' your brother in law's temper. He is the problem here, not your son.
    – Meg
    Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 17:34
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    I have seen a 50 year old man in a happy and jolly mood be scolded by a 30 something year old serious type at our workplace, we all like the old guy but we know the 30 year old's habits too. We were not happy about it, but the old man learned to just avoid him, we all avoid him, but we do not dislike him because of what he is, we just manage our interactions, there is something strange about him though, if you tell him a joke, he would try to make it as if you are making fun of him, so we stopped even telling him any jokes, we just stay the hell away from him and let him be.
    – jimjim
    Commented Jan 7, 2020 at 5:13
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    talking from experience, your are better off avoiding the situation all together, rather than trying to teach your child that he shouldn't act like a child.
    – isaace
    Commented Jan 7, 2020 at 21:00
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    Was your child actually hurting the other child? Was your brother in law angry or scared when he shouted? Commented Jan 7, 2020 at 22:47
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    Yes, the description "jumped on his back", especially if the other child was currently leaning over, sounds quite scary. As in, "could have broken the other child's back", scary. Could you clarify that please? I have also yelled at someone else's child once when they put their hand between two sailboats in a harbor. I yelled (and immediately apologized to both the child and his father, who was there) because I was honestly terrified that the child was about to loose a hand.
    – terdon
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 13:33

8 Answers 8


Kids are going to be kids. There is a lot of social etiquette and nuance that they will learn as they gain experience. Four years old is not the time. You should not place this burden on your child at such a young age. Using terms of today, this is Victim Blaming 101. The aggressor (the 28-yo that is yelling at a child) should be the one that is reprimanded, not the victim (the child).

There are many courses of action here, but it should be clear to you that your question should instead focus on how to change the 28-yo's behaviour, not your child's.

Tell the adult that it is not appropriate to yell at your son, and suggest alternate methods of communication. There are many parenting books and resources out there that will provide excellent alternatives to yelling.

If the adult cannot follow through (or refuses to follow through), simply do not spend time with them. Social consequences are a strong driving factor for behavioural changes; if the adult values time with you and your family, they will change.

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    Agreed. @Nofel This would be a pretty good follow-up question for interpersonal SE: "How do I get my brother-in-law to be nicer to my son?". Include the details and ask for how to deal with the 28 year old not the 4 year old. Commented Jan 7, 2020 at 6:48
  • Agree strongly. As an adult who does struggle with things suddenly 'getting too much', I have found that identifying how I feel and communicating it clearly and immediately helps others to empathize with my situation and react collaboratively. This includes young children. To me, this occurs with all sorts of visual and aural inputs in environments where it is out of my control: bars, clubs, concerts, kids, shopping centers, etc. Even loud dogs. Learning to identify this has been a mission but it is worth it.
    – Gusdor
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 11:41
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    This is really the only response. The 28 year old has gone through 28 years worth of learning social etiquette and has had nearly 10 years of a fully developed body and brain. Your son has not, and the burden should fall to the adult to change, as he's the only one who can reliably be expected to understand the situations in this pair.
    – Anoplexian
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 15:59

This definitely seems like an issue for your brother in law, not for your son. Kids just don't adapt to changing circumstances that quickly; even much older children would have a problem handling that quick of a switch. Teaching your brother in law how to handle disengaging may be helpful, if he's receptive to that.

My six year old is still pretty "silly" at times, and when we were out to dinner the other day with family, an adult family member was playing with him in a similar way - playing silly games, things designed to get him to laugh and be silly. This was okay for a bit, but eventually got out of hand for the nicer restaurant we were in.

We handled that transition by first letting my son know it was time to stop, and then slowly calming him down over a few minutes. We calmly repeated that it was time to calm down and for us to stop being silly; and when he went overboard we gently held him briefly. It wasn't perfect, because he was still quite silly well after we preferred; but there wasn't any shouting, certainly, and he did calm down eventually.

My older son (8) is old enough to understand more quickly when playtime is over, but he still takes a few minutes usually as well - and frankly it's not until 12 or 13 that I'd expect the average child to be able to switch nearly immediately. The maturity and empathy necessary to recognize when the switch needs to go off just takes time to develop.

If your brother in law is not able or willing to work on this, I would recommend simply preventing him from engaging your son in play like this. A simple, "Hey, let's keep this gentle - you know he gets a bit more wild than you like" will do enough; it's not perfect (since it suggests your son is the one responsible, when it's really your brother in law that is the one you're placing limits on), so perhaps try to have that conversation without your son hearing (so he doesn't feel responsible), but it's probably the best compromise with someone who isn't willing to change themselves.

I regularly limit relatives' play with my children when it's inappropriate, either because I think it will overly tax my children or because I don't like how the relatives respond; it sometimes takes a bit to get them used to your limits, but at the end of the day he's your child, not theirs, so the limits are yours to set. Just stick to those limits and they'll get used to them.

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    That’s my take that he is my son but my wife always defend her brother saying when u love someone a lot u do it. Which I don’t like coz I m uncle to my nephew I never did it alone or infront of parent and he had audacity of doing it infront of me
    – localhost
    Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 18:34
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    When you love someone a lot you do what? Hurt them? I hope she's not saying that, as if so then you have much bigger concerns to deal with I think.
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 19:10
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    @nofel the other thing I can see is something my family uses a lot on me actually : "you love us, we love your child, you should accept us". If it's that... then no, you don't have to accept that. It's your child, if you think this is too much, you step in, that's it. Full stop.
    – Patrice
    Commented Jan 7, 2020 at 16:42
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    Loving someone doesn't mean letting them do whatever they want no matter how harmful.
    – swbarnes2
    Commented Jan 7, 2020 at 16:55
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    I added sorry detail in edit section
    – localhost
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 4:32

This kind of On and Off and shouting behaviour can be permanently damaging, while I cannot make 28 years old understand how stupid behaviour of his is making my son uncomfortable. How can I teach my son not to get carried away with anyone to expect dad and mom?

I'm sorry, but this is backwards. It's far easier to get an adult to clearly state and enforce boundaries than to get a small child to understand unspoken and unknowable rules of conduct. Whatever the breaking point is for playing with your child, like say, climbing on him, or hitting, the adult needs to use his words and clearly state what he expects. ("Feet stay on the ground", "High fives are okay, hitting is not")

It's also honestly simpler if you make the rules consistent. If you don't want your son to climb on other people, don't let him climb on you (or at least, don't let him climb without asking first). If you let him pull your hair, he's going to think that's okay to do to everyone. So don't let him do that at all.


If you are able to articulate the problem and ask a question to gain agreement on future behavior, the adult uncle should understand. Sincerity trumps anger. The parent is responsible for the child's environment: this means setting and enforcing limits for relatives.


Children need to be able to respond to changes in their setting. If someone has demanded more than once that the child stop the interaction, then the child needs to stop. It should not take several minutes. To keep bothering someone is inappropriate. It does not need to be instantaneous, but if your son is still at it 30 seconds later then your brother in law is right to be annoyed.

On the other hand, adults need to respond to children's undesired behavior gently and lovingly. If you've only asked once or twice over the span of a few seconds, it is inappropriate to scold the child harshly. In fact, if the child believes a harsh scolding is undeserved it may make the child act out worse.

In your case it sounds like the child and the brother in law both need gentle discipline. You can work with the child in the meantime. You could even do a practice:

I'm going to come play with you, but we're going to practice respecting each others' boundaries. When I say stop, you need to leave me alone.


Oof, stop, that was uncomfortable, stop.

Then if the child touches you again, you can gently force him away from you and say "Stop! I said that was uncomfortable. You're being mean to me now."

I find that a legitimate way to make them feel guilty for their bad behavior usually works well. And they should feel guilty if they touch you in an unwanted way.

With your brother-in-law, that's a more difficult one. I'm not sure what the best way is to approach that, but next time they start playing you could say "Remember Bob, you like to stop playing abruptly. Be gentle with him when you want to stop and give him a few seconds." This will work a lot, lot better if you've already worked with your son and he responds well to your brother in law's gentle demand.

I have found that children tend to respond better to my discipline 1) if it comes gently for first and second offenses, and 2) if I make sure they feel loved and respected. Going instantly from zero to screaming at people is neither loving nor respectful no matter who it is done to, I wouldn't want to be yelled at either. Reserve the harsh discipline for major bad behavior.

Summary: To teach your child not to get carried away, teach the child to respect other peoples' personal space and demands to be left alone or to stop activities. To teach your brother in law not to get carried away, tell him to stop playing over a few seconds because your son can't turn it off instantly like a switch.


The behavior of your relative does seem inappropriate toward the child, but why not use it to your advantage?

Your son will have to encounter all kinds of people later on in life, including jerks, weirdos, assholes, idiots, etc. Sooner or later he will have to get comfortable with the idea that not everyone is always going to play it nice or be adequate.

So maybe next time he cries because his uncle hurts his feelings, explain to your child in a calm and supportive way that he can't really relax completely around this particular adult because of their history. Point out how every time even though they started their play happy, it always ended up bad. Be prepared, however, that the concept may not be understood by a 4-year old completely at once. Just be patient, and reinforce it every time that you have to calm your son down; he will get it sooner with your help than without.

The added benefit will be that he will learn to behave around certain kind of people early in his life.

And by all means, talk to your brother in law to stop acting like a kid himself, even if it does not change a thing. It's just something that you must try.

  • And my experience with my own child was that they are capable of adapting, for example, their behavior to the specific person they are dealing with. I used to say "any dog can learn this; surely my child can." Both dog and (even little) people pick up a lot of non-verbal cues and react to them. Humans can even be made consciously aware of them, an enormous advantage. So, yes, the OP should talk to his child. Last not least: We learn the most from emotionally charged situations; I'd be surprised if the OP's child weren't already more careful with the in-law. Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 17:41

How can I teach my son not to get carried away with anyone except dad and mom?

I don't think you want to teach him that's it's OK to get carried away with dad and mom either, do you? I think what you want to teach him is to stop when someone says "No", whether it's your brother-in-law or his cousin or his siblings or his parents.

I used to be one of those hyper kids that went too far, and I now have a 5 year old child that can sometimes act the same way.

Here's what we do:

  • Explain to her that when someone says "No" to wrestling, she needs to stop the first time.
  • Show her what that looks like. Act it out with her.
  • Verify that she understands.
    • Bonus: Try to turn the concept into a short statement that she can remember. Our statement for this is "Stop when they say No." The fewer words the better.
  • Practice it a lot. We practice where she wrestles and I tell her No, and I wrestle and she tells me No. We practice with her older sibling. We practice with her mom. It usually turns into a fun role playing game.

I think it should be okay for adults to tell kids to stop being physical in a way that affects other people (hitting them, climbing on them etc).

BUT, adults need to learn to not lay down limits and rules in an abrupt way. There has to be a gradient going from "please stop now" to shouting "STOP IT!" that has intermediate steps.

Just like riding a car that suddenly switches from 0 to 100 can be bearable if it's within 10 seconds but unbearable if it's in 0.1 seconds, your brother needs to learn to have gradual steps in how he communicates with children.

You can tell him that unless he learns this technique, he's not allowed to shout at your kids at all.

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