Cousins — The Bump
School-Aged Children


I'd love to hear others' thoughts on a situation that's been growing between my kids and my niece.

Background:  Niece and DS are the same age (9); niece is the daughter of my BIL.  BIL and his wife were estranged from the family and living out of the country when niece was born.  When niece was about 2, BIL made contact with the family briefly to say that they were back into the country because his wife had been diagnosed with stomach cancer.  His wife passed away when niece was 6.    Things in the marriage were apparently very rough even before her illness.  There was a lot of animosity and fighting, much of which was about niece.  Apparently, they also fought a lot in front of my niece.

Since niece's mother's death, BIL has rejoined the family and moved even closer to most of the family members.  He got niece into therapy.  He recently got remarried to a wonderful woman who has been great with my niece.  My DD is thrilled to have a female cousin close enough in age to be friends, and DS is happy to have a cousin almost exactly his age (the two older cousins are 16 and 21).  Niece has proven to be remarkably resilient in the face of all these challenges.  On first glance, she seems totally typical.  But as you would expect for a child with her background, she is very mature for her age in many ways, and in some ways really immature.

Now for the current situation:  Niece is very interested in getting DD;s attention all to herself.  When it's just the two girls, everything's fine.  When it's just the two 9 y/os, they get along really well.  When they're all three together, things can get tricky.  The adults do not get involved in this drama; we encourage the kids to work things out among themselves, which usually works.

Niece might say something like, "Come on Susie, let's go hang out in my room. No, Johnny -- you can't come it's girls only!" In that situation, I generally just encourage DS to find something else to do for a while until the girls get over themselves.  But recently, niece has been more mean and insulting to him. For instance, I've watched from afar while they played a card game in which niece consistently cheated AND teased my son about how badly he was playing.  He did not call her out on it.  Later, I asked if he realized that she was cheating.  His response: "Yeah, I knew.  But she likes to win, and I don't really care, so I just let her do it." This response is pretty typical of my mellow son.  This past weekend after DS said something, she came back with, "That was the stupidest story I've ever heard! Wasn't that stupid, Susie? Johnny, why do you always say stuff like that? No one cares."  When this happened in my presence, I did step in and say, "Hey -- that crossed a line.  I don't like to hear talk like that from any of you.  I know sometimes you guys like to tease, but there's a difference between teasing and being just plain mean." 

Both of my kids generally just ignore her when she does stuff like this.  My own kids won't hesitate to fight with each other, and I have heard my two mix it up while they're with niece, but I have never heard either of them be mean to her.  Even when my kids do fight with each other, they rarely say stuff that strong (at least not where I can overhear!)

So, my questions are:  

Where do I draw the line with niece, given the fact that her early childhood years were SO abnormal and that she's got this mix of very mature and immature components?

Part of me wants to take my DD to task for not using her "big kid" influence on niece, but on the other hand, I don't want to make my 13 y/o DD responsible for her younger cousin's behavior. Should I hold her accountable for not coming to DS's defense?

Finally, how would you talk about this with DS?  He doesn't seem too upset by cousin's jabs, but I don't want him to allow himself to -- basically -- be bullied by her.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts!
High School English teacher and mom of 2 kids:

DD, born 9/06/00 -- 12th grade
DS, born 8/25/04 -- 7th grade

Re: Cousins

  • Overthinking.  It's what I do. Sigh.

     But if she wants to be a looked up to mentor, she needs to actively model the kind of behavior that is appropriate and not allow this girl to denigrate the brother.

    I had a chance to talk to her about this privately last night while DS was at karate.  She feels uncomfortable with niece's behavior, but she hasn't been certain how to handle it. When I put it in the context of bullying, and gave her permission to stand up for herself and her brother, she felt a lot better.

     the sibs and cousins cut them slack where perhaps they shouldn't (or wouldn't with each other) because they intuit the deficits this peer brings to the table.

    I think this is what's going on.  It's not that they feel sorry for her because her mom died, it's that they know her behavior is questionable, and it sort of weirds them out.  They treat her with kid gloves.  

    High School English teacher and mom of 2 kids:

    DD, born 9/06/00 -- 12th grade
    DS, born 8/25/04 -- 7th grade
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