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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 '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 '21 at 21:49
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I knew a five year old kid like this a long time ago. Parents let it continue too long so it became harder to get him to stop. The kid treated more family and friends the same way as time went on. Everyone tensed up when the kid walked in the room. He later hurt kids in school for no reason.

If this has been going on for two years, then the kids nor the parents aren't feeling the pain enough to tackle the problem with more urgency. You need to pass the pain on to them to give them a sense of urgency (motivation) to take care of this anti-social behavior ASAP. How many more years will this kid be allowed to continue like this?

At this point, you'll get faster and better results with 'shock and awe'. Immediate consequences. Make the kid and his parents feel the pain. Dish it right back to the kid.

He pours syrup on your clothes? Immediately pull him in for a hug so he gets syrup on his own clothes, too. Rub his face into the syrup he poured on you. Don't do it in a mean way, more like a "I guess you need a hug now, come here." Now it's the parents' problem to clean him up for what he did. Now they all feel the pain. Now they're much more upset with the kid, having to deal both with his behavior and the syrup on his clothes. Yeah, it's a bit juvenile, but those parents are now motivated. They feel the urgency to fix the problem.

Throws food at you? Throw twice as much food back at him. If he's next to you, shove it down his shirt. Immediate consequence. He'll be shocked. He'll probably cry. Now the kid and parents feel the pain. Now the parents feel the urgency.

Kicks you? Tickle him down to the ground and remove his shoes and socks. Throw them out the window onto the lawn. Immediate consequence. Shock. He has to go out in bare feet to retrieve them. He'll go crying to his parents so now they feel the pain and urgency.

Grabs at you? Pull his shirt up from back and up over his head. Immediate consequence. Shock. I'm not saying to abuse him. Just shock him with an immediate consequence.

Kicks your chair? Depending on the situation, push him out of his chair and sit on both of them so he has to stand. Tip his chair over. Place it upside down. Put his plate of food on the chair. Shocking. Immediate consequence. Immediate behavior change. A ruckus is now raised so the parents can't avoid getting more involved.

Throws a toy at you? Keeping it is a valid deterrent, but throwing it in the kitchen garbage works better. If he threw it, he must not care about it, so it can go in the garbage. Immediate consequence. Shock.

Shocking him with an immediate consequence is just another lesson in life, like putting your hand on a hot stove. He'll quickly realize he doesn't want to do that anymore. You don't have to raise your voice or hurt him. Just dish it back to him. Be nonchalant about it. Don't even say anything about what you just did.

The parents aren't going to like this, but the parents need some shock and awe themselves to feel the pain, the urgency, a stronger motivation. They won't be saying just suck it up and wait until he stops on his own. The behavior will stop sooner, and the parent will have learned a parenting lesson.

Yeah I'm probably mean, but as a parent (adult kids now) I got impatient with ongoing bad behavior when we had tried everything else.

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    It might be useful to tell the parents this is how you are going to handle it if you choose to do this. If they object let them know they can handle it themselves and keep an eye on their kid. Just as much as the kid needs to know there are boundaries, so do the parents. "Suffer until our kid gets over it on his own" definitely violates a boundary.
    – Becuzz
    Dec 9 '21 at 14:15
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The behaviour of your cousin's kid reminds me a bit of my own behaviour when I was about that age. I was generally a nice and well-behaved child, but I was behaving very disrespectful towards 2 of my nieces (sisters) and their parents. As far as I can remember there was no specific reason for my behaviour, I just felt like it. Judging by your story, that could very well be the case for your cousin's kid. I can't remember many details of what I did, but there is one incident that I can clearly remember: I deliberately broke a toy of one of my nieces.

As for how my behaviour towards them improved: my uncle and aunt always behaved friendly or neutral towards me and at the moments where I crossed the line, my parents would discipline me. For example, when I broke the toy of one of my nieces, my mother had me give one of my toys to my niece. I never broke their things again. My overall behaviour towards them did not improve straight away, but it did teach me that there were boundries. Eventually I grew over this behaviour as I grew older.

My tips would be:

  • Ignore his bad behaviour as much as you can and be friendly or neutral to him.
  • Let your cousin or her husband discipline the kid. They are his parents, it's their task to explain to him that a certain action is not acceptable.
  • If he throws things at you: if you catch it, or if it lands next to you, grab it and say: "Thank you. How nice of you to give this to me." (This works well for my 2 year old nephew, who likes to throw things at people, but might be less effective for a 5 year old.) Alternatively your cousin or her husband could place whatever he threw at you out of his reach. So that he perhaps understands that if he throws things at people, he might loose those things (temporary).
  • Try to take comfort in the thought that this is probably just a fase.

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