Relationship Connection: I don’t like how my extended family corrects my son

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Question

I love my extended family and we’re all pretty close with each other. They are very opinionated and direct and will sometimes correct my son. He’s a good kid, but sometimes he can do things that bug other people and doesn’t always know when enough is enough.

He’s a sensitive kid and doesn’t respond well, even to me. I feel like they make my job harder when they step in and parent him. I know he can be hard, so I don’t blame them for needing to say something.

My only concern is that they do it in a way that makes things worse for me and my husband dealing with his reaction to them. Any suggestions for how I can talk with them without creating more stress in our family?

Answer

Your family is having an honest reaction to your son’s behaviors, which isn’t always easy to accept. You are familiar with your son and know what works best for him in your family, so it’s hard to see how other people experience him. While there may be some ways to refine their approach to him, I want to encourage you to stay open to what’s happening with your son in the larger family as he has essential experiences that will help prepare him for life.

My guess is that it’s harder on you to watch other parents redirect your son than it is on him. You might be feeling ashamed or embarrassed that your son is behaving this way. It’s common to feel like our children’s behavior is a reflection of our competency as parents. This is where it’s good to check your own responses and not interfere with a process that can actually be good for your son.

We all need help raising our children and the involvement of extended family brings both opportunities and frustrations. As long as your family members aren’t being abusive or cruel to your son, I encourage you to allow them to influence and redirect him. I think it’s critical that children learn how to respond to other adults who do things differently than mom or dad.

They will provide an honest mirror about specific behaviors that may be socially inappropriate or uncomfortable. You might not agree with some of the finer points of how they interact with him, but my guess is that most of the time you will agree with the behavior they’re redirecting. Chances are, they’re the same behaviors you’re trying to redirect. See these other adults as an ally in your efforts to socialize your son. One redirection from someone else can have more influence on your son than a thousand requests from you.

For example, some time ago, one of my children was banging on a table at a family gathering and making a racket. I was busy with another child and didn’t even notice it was happening. I looked up when I heard one of my family members sharply telling my child to stop banging on the table. It’s not how I would have said it, but my child immediately stopped and didn’t do it again the rest of the night. I wondered how my child would handle the redirection, but saw that they moved on and played with other cousins as if nothing had happened.

Obviously, if they’re publicly shaming him or belittling him, then you have to step in and ask them to be respectful. This is a delicate balance, but I encourage you to err on the side of letting them redirect him in their own way. He has to learn how to respond to other people. This is an essential developmental task you don’t want to sabotage with your own anxiety.

Pay close attention to what actually gets worse for you and your husband after someone redirects him. If they are humiliating him, then that will make things worse and you’ll need to step in and talk with the other adult. You can let them know that you support them redirecting your son, but that you request basic respect in the treatment of your son. All of us deserve basic respect from others, even if we’re out of line.

On the other hand, if your son is simply getting defensive and dramatic about being redirected, this is a good opportunity to back up the other adult and work with your son to take responsibility for his actions. Again, these other adults can help you with your goal to socialize your son. They’re establishing the social order and you don’t want to get in the way.

We can’t protect our children from the variety of responses they’ll get from others throughout their lives. Now is a good time for them to begin learning that people aren’t going to always be sensitive and diplomatic when interacting with them. If someone’s response to his behavior bothers him, then you can help him work through the experience. However, chances are that it won’t even be necessary. These are the very experiences that will help prepare them for life in the workplace, church and the community.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  • Hataalii November 1, 2017 at 9:12 am

    AMEN! Geoff is absolutely correct here!

  • DRT November 1, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    Her “extended family.” Makes me wonder if it is her in-laws, or her own family, that she is talking about.

  • Wolverine November 2, 2017 at 8:48 am

    Kids are a lot more resilient that parents end up treating them most of the time. The “don’t upset him with firm reprimands” is coddling. Coddling leads to more poor behavior that gets harder and harder to correct with age. He’s probably a sensitive kid because he’s always been babied. I’m not saying kids can’t be sensitive, Yes, they can, I agree that she should take it as an opportunity to have others enforce correction for bad behavior (with respect and no belittling of course). Just have a simple conversation with extended family to ask them to be kind, but firm. If you’re always walking on eggshells, then no one will ever correct any bad behavior and things will only be worse as he grows up. I have a sister that used to tell her kids, “Boys that misbehave don’t get what they want” and put them in a time out if they were “really bad”. Yeah, that was her “reprimand and discipline policy”. Then she started working at a boys youth home and was faced with the reality of no discipline and what happens when parents want to be their kid’s friends and letting them do whatever they wanted, instead of setting rules and enforcing consequences for breaking them. Her (and her husband’s) tune changed, with respectful conversations with her kids, and they tightened up the rules and enforced much more strict consequences appropriate for their ages (4 boys). The kids, I’m happy to say, have all grown up to be fine, respectful, well behaved, unentitled young men, when they were quite the unruly little twerps as little kids. They’re now parents themselves and are all very thoughtful, engaged, active Fathers that seem to be guiding their children down the path of respect, kindness and the importance of being a good human. What more can anyone really ask for?

    Parenting is the most important job someone has, you’re literally helping this child learn a pattern of behavior and showing them what being a good person means. The skills of being a good human are all learned and influenced by what they see daily and learned from their experiences with all sorts of people throughout their lives. (good and bad)

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