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I'm almost 30 years old, and I'm being terrorized by a 5-year-old. Both his step-mom (my cousin) and I don't know what to do with him anymore. This kid has basically been ill-mannered from the day I met him 2 years ago, but it's only getting worse. I've tried working with my cousin, but to no avail. Neither of us knows why he seems to pick on me especially, from what we can tell, my reactions to his behaviour haven't been different at all from other adults that are often in the room (like my her parents, her siblings, our grandparents, my brothers or my parents).

It started with simple things like shouting syllables that are supposed to resemble my name repeatedly at me, then escalated to things like kicking my chair, kicking me, grabbing onto me, and throwing food or toys at me. It's now at the point where last weekend, we were at a pancake restaurant and the kid happily started pouring pancake syrup on me! Yes, he succeeded, yes, that was a fail from his parents to keep their eyes on him, and I should have never turned my back on him... but it goes to show that this has escalated pretty far by now and both my cousin and I don't know what to do about it anymore, besides locking him up in a playpen and ignore him, or watching him every second when there's no playpen available.

The problem is: We're pretty sure he does this for attention. So we've tried several things:

  • I make sure I give him attention when I see him, without him asking for it. Seemed to work for a while, but it seems it's not necessarily my attention he wants, but the attention of others, like his father and step-mom, and might be using me as a means to get it.
  • I ignore the attention-seeking behaviour. For example, if I am in a conversation with my uncle, I ignore it when he starts shouting my name repeatedly, and continue the conversation. Worked for a while as well, until little mister figured out he just needed to escalate the situation even more, so people will intervene so he won't damage the chair, toys, cause a huge food mess, etc.
  • My cousin and her husband try to reward good behaviour, by giving him attention at times when he isn't bothering others, especially when they are in the company of other adults. Again, works to an extent, but he's basically figured out he can get even more (negative) attention from them by misbehaving on top of that.
  • Timeouts. Basically, we first stole the 'naughty step' idea from one of those supernanny tv shows. Except... we both think he may actually want this, as it comes with cuddles and a kiss at the end. It doesn't seem to matter if I put him in a time out or if my cousin/her husband do: he just sits there, gets his cuddle and kiss, and has reached his goal of getting attention. He'll also often walk away, needing to be walked/carried back which also again is some kind of interaction/attention.

My cousin preferably would not see me raise my voice to him ever, she will not do so herself either. She's also not one to use corporal punishment, the fact that she agreed to physically put him on a naughty step/spot was already quite a thing. Both our parents have never had to deal with anything like this either, while they agree it's pretty abnormal behaviour they don't have any other ideas except to 'suck it up' and 'he'll grow over it'. Since I'm not going to wait for that, and my cousin would rather see the whole thing end as well:

How could my cousin or I get this 5-year-old out of my hair?!

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    Have you (or rather his parents) tried actual punishments? I don't mean corporeal, rather just things like removing things he enjoys. This can be anything from removing screen time, no sweets after dinner, not going to places if he doesn't behave etc. At five years old he should be mature enough to manage time removed punishments (you behaved badly in the restaurant, so there will be no sweets after dinner this evening). At five years old kids are absolutely ready for boundaries and they often are looking to be given them in a stern and obvious enough manner.
    – DRF
    Aug 21 at 21:44
  • Naughty step worked quite well for our kid till about five when it became too easy for her, she could easily manage 10 or even 15 minutes without really being bothered all that much, which eats up too much time. A stern talking too with obvious displeasure worked well and for more problematic transgressions actual punishments (no music when brushing teeth or even once no bed time story). It's, I think, to make sure the child understands this is about discipline and not removal of affection though.
    – DRF
    Aug 21 at 21:49

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