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Should I send him to boot camp?

What to do when you’re in charge of a child who’s not your own—and behavioral problems abound? 

While our elder’s impressed with this aunt’s dedication, she needs to proceed with caution.   

Dear EWC:

A family member has left me in charge of her child; she said she could not handle him anymore and he was troubled. I thought she was crazy since we are talking about a 7 year-old boy—how bad could he be, right? All I can say is wow…I was shocked. 

It started off with just normal childish bad things like lying and saying mean things but not meaning it. Now he has been hitting kids, threatening to hurt adults, threatening other kids with a toy weapon and being suspended from school, forcing girls to kiss him, hurting his baby brother, and trying to choke his mother when he sees her. We have tried to get him in therapy but there were no openings due to COVID. I’ve tried talking to him, grounding him, time out, quiet time, and writing lines on why that was bad. Nothing seems to bother him. 

His mother has tried talking to him and all he says to her is he thinks she is lying and doesn’t care and she is crying and feeling hopeless now. His school knows how involved I am with my nephew and they have been in contact with me and are saying that they are seeing worse behavior with him and they don’t know what I should do either. I’ve been thinking about boot camps but is that too mean? 

I want to see my nephew better himself and I’ve told him if he keeps this up that as an adult his future wouldn’t be good. And he just pouts, which I understand because he is only 7. I do know this behavior started when his mother told him that his dad wasn’t his real dad and that his real dad was in prison. 

I just don’t know what to do anymore or how to help him and his mother. Any advice would be helpful. Thank you.

Lincoln-Parker replies:

Let me start by saying what a wonderful person that I think that you are. I’m not sure that that helps, and it certainly won’t make things any easier for you, but just know your reward will come when this 7-year-old becomes a wonderful young man. 

I had a similar situation, not with a relative, but with Little Brother in the Big Brother/Big Sister program. He was tough to deal with and needed love and therapy. He was continually asked to leave schools because of tantrums and other disruptive behavior. His mother loved him but knew that he needed a Big Brother, help, therapy, and love. Today he is a wonderful young lawyer who dedicates a lot of his time “paying back” by helping children who have similar difficulties to what he had.

Regarding the boot camp, I would not do anything until you have explored therapy alternatives. This child has had considerable trauma and may have a feeling of abandonment by both parents. (My Little Brother had lost his father and beloved grandfather by the time he was 5.) I am not a therapist, but, similarly, your nephew’s actions might be his only way of expressing his feeling of emptiness. That being the case, his underlying problems have to be addressed first. I don’t think a boot camp is an answer right now, and the money might be better spent on counseling sessions.  

There will be time for other actions down the road based on what a therapist thinks is best; in that, there could be another issue. My Little Brother’s problems were complicated by Asperger’s syndrome, which is mild autism. Even with that, he learned to cope, and your nephew, with the proper love and counseling, can do the same. Again the important thing is to find the underlying issues and treat them at this early age.  

This is a lot for someone to take on when it is a relative rather than one’s own child. Hopefully, his mother is capable of stepping up and carrying a share of the load—at least the love part. There is nothing more wonderful than helping a helpless child. It requires both gentle and tough love. Get help in understanding which to use and when. The work is hard, but it is repaid many times over.  

Good luck, and may God bless you.

Children 

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